Words by Danyal Ahmed Khalik
Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size, staged originally 11 years ago returned to the Young Vic with an even more striking and imposing run. Like Moonlight, this play is a coming-of-age production, this being the story of two black brother’s struggle for social progression in the Deep South. And given that it pronounced themes of manhood, the U.S justice system and the difficulties of family ties, a lot of which are timeless in nature, it is no accident that the play found its way back to London.
The Brothers Size, in a sentence, can be described as a seething melting pot of vigorous writing; a concrete snapshot that holds its audience on an edge for a full 90 minutes. It portrays the rough anxieties of Oshoosi Size (Jonathan Ajayi), released out of prison and under the scrutiny of his older brother, Ogun Size (Sope Dirisu). The latter runs a shabby car repair shop, pocketing just enough to satisfy his own welfare, and encounters the trials of helping Oshooi stand back on his own two feet. Only to find this becoming exacerbated with Elegba (Anthony Welsh), Oshooi’s, apparently, close friend and prison-mate who, according to Ogun from the very start, is troublesome.
The play fundamentally rests on emotionally sought dialogue; and what this entailed, according to Sope after a thought-provoking interview, was a more “organic” performance. Indeed, this magnificent concept of simplicity in an increasing theatrical age of extravagant West-End offshoots leads to nothing but visceral shows. The set design echoed this further. Not only did it press that intimate feel by having the audience so close to the stage, it demanded an engagement with the play’s nuances in a way that might be neglected in commercial productions (I’m just thinking of my experiences watching Amadeus at the National). It reminds us in the present that great theatre is not in need of high budgets, but the traditional notion of communicating evocative monologues with the only tool being the human voice is just as, if not, more powerful.
What I found most interesting, simply because its connotations are not subjective to one interpretation, was the ring created by white chalk encircling the stage. When Sope asked me for my opinion of it, I said the chalk symbolised the point of liminality. Outside the circle referred to the harsh realities of black negros in a xenophobic culture, hence the three men reluctantly did anything outside it. Yet within the spheres expressed that sonorous but ambivalent camaraderie between Oshooi and Ogun; It gave vivid glimpses of hope, but simultaneously destroyed any lasting sign of it.
The Brothers Size, in short, is an invigorating start for Young Vic’s 2018 productions. Set in the States yet its message spans across national borders, channeled through immaculately stylised aesthetics. It’s an exhilarating piece of theatre, speaking universally about entrapment, loyalty and oppression to refresh our appreciation of how contemporary art can be presented and the sensitive topics it can comment on.
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