A Raisin in the Sun at The Liverpool Playhouse

Posted on 3 March 2016
By Chris High
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A Raisin in the Sun, which is currently running at The Liverpool Playhouse, is essentially about the need to hold on to dreams and, as a result, overcome oppression. When first staged in 1959, it became the first play to be written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway as well as being the first to be directed by a black man in Lloyd Richards. A Raisin in the Sun is also, in part, based on Lorraine Hansberry’s personal experiences so if all of this doesn’t tell you that you are in for something of a theatrical treat then nothing will.

Staged entirely in the run-down apartment of the struggling Younger family – a set, with its peeling tea-stained yellow wallpaper, tired furnishings and chipped paintwork that almost becomes a character in itself, thanks to the claustrophobic atmosphere it induces – it would be easy to think that what will follow once the curtain rises is set to be something of a dour affair while the family await the insurance cheque following the death of the family patriarch. Far from it. From first-to-last the script glitters with humour, passion and determination which is all delivered with sassy ease by an exemplary cast.

As Lena “Mama” Younger, Angela Wynter is superb, injecting her character with nuances and mannerisms that will have audiences recognising their own grandmothers in an instant. Times may have changed, but the older generation’s outlook appears to be fixed in stone: “work hard, be good and believe and all will be fine” is what Mama espouses, somewhat naively on occasion.

Exceptional too as Walter Lee Younger is Ashley Zhangazha, whose desperation and frustration simmer and bubble beneath the surface nicely until, finally, he is forced into a position where he has to boil over and does so with exquisitely controlled passion that only a few might manage so well.

This is the beauty of Dawn Walton’s direction; she tells a quite complex story simply and without bells and whistles. After all, there is enough material in Hansberry’s script to make two or three successful representations of the Civil Rights struggle, but what Walton has done so effectively is concentrate on the smaller details, magnified and cajoled them out and thereby managed to make them as important as the much larger issues under discussion.

One such way in which this is manifest is the casting of Susan Wokoma as the “flitting” wannabe doctor Beneatha Younger, who’s sharp delivery and exactness of movement is something that will be forever a joy to have witnessed. There is great casting, too, with Aron Julius in the dual roles of Asagai and George who, in trying to woo the headstrong Beneatha, come across as being two sides of the same “the have and the have nots” coin which exemplifies immaculately the context of the piece as a whole.

In 1959 the cast list included a young Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil alongside an ensemble cast that would go on to create their own status in theatre later. On this performance, Eclipse have emulated not only Hansberry’s initial success but also brought together a cast of equal strength and depth as the original to create an unforgettable theatrical experience of great poignancy.
Superb stuff, indeed.

A Raisin in the Sun
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
March 2-March 6, 2016
Author: Lorraine Hansberry
Director: Dawn Walton
Producer: Eclipse Theatre Company Ltd.
Cast Includes: Angela Wynter, Susan Wokoma, Ashley Zhangazha, Alisha Bailey, Aron Julius, Solomon Gordon, Mike Burnside, Everal A Walsh
Running Time: 2 hrs 45 mins
PR Rating: ***** Superb