Lloyd Evans

Redneck twaddle: Young Vic’s Fairview reviewed

Plus: Hampstead Theatre's new play about Spassky and Fischer would have been much better without boring old Spassky

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Fairview

Young Vic, until 23 January

Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer

Hampstead Theatre, until 18 January

Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury won last year’s Pulitzer Prize. It deserves additional awards for promoting racial disharmony and entrenching false, divisive and outdated stereotypes. The title is a pun. ‘Fair’ means ‘white’ and ‘view’ means ‘world outlook’ or ‘prejudice’. Really it ought to be called Honky Bias. The script declares its fascination with antique hatreds in its opening line which is a stage direction: ‘Lights up on a negro.’ No one talks like that any more.

I attended the December press night where the play began as a moderately amusing TV-level comedy about a rich black family preparing for a birthday. This opening scene was followed by 30 minutes of confusing absurdity. The actions of the family comedy were repeated in dumbshow while a radio script was relayed over the speakers in which four unseen figures bickered about race. The characters had goofy, hickish names from the 1950s — Jimbo, Bets, Suze, Mack — and they made bigoted pronouncements that were either crudely offensive or badly researched.

Bets, a white Frenchwoman, suggested that the Slavs belong to a different race from her. No European thinks like that. Asked to name a rich black American, Bets said ‘O.J. Simpson’. Again, no one would give that answer as, in any case, OJ’s not rich any more. None of this redneck twaddle had any connection with the efforts of the unfortunate cast who were stuck on stage gamely repeating the opening scene in silence. Finally the radio play ceased, thank God, and the show reverted to the birthday party. Several of the family’s black relatives turned up. And guess what? They were all whites and they set about presenting grotesquely unfunny distortions of black culture. The scene culminated in an orgiastic spillage of plastic foodstuffs over the dinner table. It was unclear what that meant.

In the final scene, the play turned into a show trial. The black cast members roamed the aisles asking whites to stand up if they sympathised with black victimhood. ‘You know who you are.’ I stayed seated because I don’t believe anyone in modern Britain is condemned to fail, and therefore to remain ‘a victim’, by an accident of their birth. I watched as my fellow crackers were herded on to the stage where they huddled and moped like worried sheep. One striking consequence of this divisive stunt was that it revealed the ratio of blacks to whites in the house. About 85 per cent of us were white. Obviously, most black people had better things to do than listen to the depressing tale that life is stacked against them.

It’s no surprise that the Young Vic, under Kwame Kwei-Armah, is trying to ‘speak out’ for those it considers oppressed. But to any disinterested observer self-appointed guardians like him come across like they’re wanting to keep ‘their people’ in a state of demoralised impotence because this enhances the guardians’ status and enables them to pose as redeemers. So I was thrilled to see how few black people had shown up to see this twisted propaganda piece whose sole aim is to hold them back. Good effort, everyone. Keep up the boycott.

Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer is about the epic chess match in Reykjavik in 1972 between the top players from America and the Soviet Union. Both Spassky and Fischer come across as entirely unlovable but at least Fischer — an icy hysteric — is interesting. He fusses and rages about the TV lights, the chairs, the height of the table, the position of the audience. ‘I don’t like the board, too much pattern in the stone, too many spots, flecks. Have another one made.’ Spassky wins the first match in 56 moves. Fischer forfeits the second with a no-show. Nineteen games lie ahead so it ought to be edge-of-the-seat stuff but the script keeps wandering off into undramatic terrain. Too much attention is paid to Spassky, a handsome nullity, who speaks with an Irish accent for some reason, and who swans around expressing his dislike of politics and coming across as a bit dim. He’s controlled by Kremlin chess wonks who tell him how to play. But if Spassky is worse at the game than the wonks, why is he representing his country?

Act Two looks into Fischer’s past, his troubled relationship with his mum, his emergence as a 12-year-old wunderkind in New York, and his friendship with a brainy Catholic priest. It’s interesting enough but hardly gripping. Tim Morton-Smith always researches his material so hard that he’s reluctant to weed out the superfluities. It’s obvious what he should have ditched here: boring old Spassky.

Correction: in the original article it was stated that, shortly after accepting the job of artistic director of the Young Vic, Kwame Kwei-Armah 'affixed a "Black Lives Matter" sign to the exterior of the theatre'. In fact the Black Lives Matter flag was hung in front of the Young Vic during David Lan's tenure as artistic director.

Written byLloyd Evans

Lloyd Evans is The Spectator's sketch-writer and theatre critic

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