With the current controversy around the lack of diversity this year’s Academy Award nominees, it seems somewhat timely for Sheffield Theatres, Eclipse Theatre Company and Belgrade Theatre, Coventry to present “A Raisin In the Sun”, a landmark play in Black theatre and one which explores issues of racial politics and social attitudes through the eyes of the Young Family. ★★★

Set in 1950’s Chicago, the family await the receipt of a cheque for $10,000, a life insurance payment from the patriarch’s recent death. Each of them harbours their own ideas about how the money can be used to transform the lives of all of them and release them from the crammed apartment they all share. The tensions in the family are exacerbated by Walter’s propensity to drink, Benetha’s desires to go into medicine (despite the duel disadvantage of her sex and skin colour) and the challenges of a family all trying to do right by each other.

Ashley Zhangazha gives a very strong performance as Walter, bringing across the characters mixture of frustration, enthusiasm, desperation and ultimately his misguided attempts to better himself for his family’s benefit. There is a certain vulnerability within the character which draws the audiences sympathy and whilst his actions are questionable, his motives aren’t. Equally, Angela Wynter’s portrayal of Mama is just as accomplished; with her melodic intonation becoming somewhat mesmerising and softening the matriarchal figure.

The director, Dawn Walton, steers the production with solid confidence and garners performances from her small cast which allow you to instantly warm to the family, despite their individual flaws, fantasies and motivations.

The play looks at the issues of change on both a personal level and of the community at large. Written in 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s script certainly reflects the mood of the time, leading to it being the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. The family comes across as a metaphor for the civil rights movement and social consciousness of a society on the cusp of change, with a mixture of methods and reasons for wanting to improve their situation for the better in the face of blatant challenge and prejudice.

The theme of the play remains relevant – motivation, money and moving forward – and steadily builds towards an emotional denouement, despite a handful of somewhat intrusive scene changes and a slightly overlong scene between Beneatha and Joseph Asagai towards the end. The play is a straightforwardly presented production which allows the script and performances to speak for themselves.

A Raisin In the Sun is currently at Sheffield Theatresuntil 13th February 2016. 0114 249 6000.

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by Paul Szabo | @IAmScubamonkey

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