Walking into the Young Vic, I didn’t know what to expect from Fairview. I knew that this was the Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama in 2019 and I knew that it involved a family drama revolving around a grandmother’s birthday. It was surely going to be political because all theatre is inevitably political, but I was not prepared for was the brilliance and boldness of this piece.
The opening act, with its snapshot window of a proscenium stage and a lavish set dedicated to high realism, lulls its audience into a false sense of security. This particular security lies upon the familiarity an audience has with the style of realism in theatre – we are led to believe that this could well be a domestic drama akin to Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee where secrets are revealed over the course of family tensions reaching a boiling point. It’s a form most theatre goers know like the back of their hand and that sense of security is followed closely by a background sense of boredom.
I’ll say it, as much as I enjoy Williams and Albee, they can get bloody boring.
But Fairview is not Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and it could not be a more important and relevant piece of theatre today. It is difficult to discuss this play without ruining the twists and turns that make it so powerful, but what I will say is this – the way in which form is shaped and reformed is what makes this play a powerhouse, how satire is treated in a way that sets your teeth on edge is masterful, and the provocation of its ending will leave you reeling.
Race and the debate about race is the heart and soul of this show, but what Fairview does with this discussion is extraordinary, because it is asking its predominantly white audience – and I am sure both writer Jackie Sibblies Drury and director Nadia Latif are well aware of the broad demographic of theatre goers – to remove themselves from the debate. Or rather, to allow people of colour the space to articulate themselves without the stereotypes and identifiers white people place upon them. The final speech is a cry to not only be heard, but a cry to be able to cry – to speak without impediment, without self consciousness and without judgement.
Many audience members were left profoundly uncomfortable in the play’s final speech, with one white female audience member standing up to challenge actress Donna Banya as she delivered her emotional monologue – but the thing that struck me most was the applause. No cast were remaining in the auditorium or on stage that I could see, and as we applauded I realised that we were only clapping ourselves – the predominantly white middle classes who had the economic privilege to afford a London theatre ticket.
So I stopped clapping, because white people have had enough applause in this world.