Monday, 18 April 2016

Review: Les Blancs at the National Theatre

Les Blancs 
National Theatre (Olivier)
Reviewed on Thursday 14th April 2016 (matinee)

The National comes up trumps with its production of a never seen before Lorraine Hansberry epic - 'Les Blancs' (The Whites). The playwright, best known for her classic 'A Raisin in the Sun', passed away aged 34 before ever completing this piece, but told of her desire for the play to one day be finished and performed. Step forward Robert Nemiroff who has adapted the text and left it in the very capable hands of director Yaël Ferber to give Hansberry's second masterpiece the life it deserves.

Set in an unnamed colony 'yesterday, today, tomorrow - but not very long after that', the story is set in a mission hospital and a nearby tribal hut, both haunted by lost souls and rife with the threat of terrorism. American journalist Charlie Morris (Elliot Cowan) arrives on the same day that Tshembe Matoseh (Danny Sapani) arrives back in Africa to attend the funeral of his late father. Both clash, as they struggle to work our their differences due to the colour of their skin.

It's eye opening stuff, and Hansberry's quick, barbed dialogue holds no prisoners - particularly evident in Clive Francis' vulgar Major Rice, who drew audible gasps from the audience with his barbaric and archaic racist remarks. Still difficult to hear in 2016, it's quite something to believe this was penned over fifty years ago.

Yaël Ferber's production is steeped with character and authenticity, aided by Soutra Gilmours skeletal set design. It's a real sensory experience, with smells and live traditional music all adding to the chilling atmosphere. The climax of the production, which comes in at just under an epic three hours, is well worth the wait - and is so visceral if sends shockwaves through the auditorium.

Siân Phillips is on exceptional strong form as Madame Nielsen, whilst Anna Madeley brings some subtle touches to her Dr Marta. The standout performance however comes from Sapani. His Tshembe is full of passion, and his fiery arguments with Cowan are heart-poundingly good - you can't help but be moved by his ferociousness for justice.

A powerhouse of a show, Les Blancs is a rare opportunity to see a rare production that has been lovingly created and pulled off with startling results. Hansberry would be proud.

Reviewed by Oliver Dowdeswell

Les Blancs runs at the National Theatre (Olivier) until 2nd June 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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