Friday 13 December 2019 1:59 pm

Fairview at the Young Vic review: A strange and thrilling masterpiece

When talking about her Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fairview, writer Jackie Sibblies Drury explains that she cannot reveal what it is about without spoiling it. And she has a point – this really is a see-it-to-believe-it surprise of a show, and is thoroughly deserving of such anticipation. 

In simple terms, the story concerns a black middle-class family, produced in the style of an African-American sitcom, with a set that constructs a cinematic, dream-like quality.

The viewer is carefully lulled into the Frasier family’s seemingly perfect life, until the action begins to unfurl into highly charged chaos and ultimately explodes in many unexpected directions. Sibblies Drury’s work is rich in thought-provoking ideas which merit careful deliberation, down to the play’s very name.    

Supported by a strong cast, the play is an impressive marriage of writer and director, an intricately-plotted, perspective-bending, jigsaw-type piece, in which ideas of race are explored in a novel, captivating and often very witty way. I felt certain as I watched that my experience of this play would be very different to the person sitting next to me, and to all others watching, based on the unique experience and background of each and every audience member. There is a beauty in that; a production which highlights theatre as a shared space for thought, however different its participants may be. The play asks, why should a curtain divide us, or a television screen for that matter, and why should some observe and others be observed? 

Fairview is a mad experiment really, and what might be described in parts as theatre of the Grotesque; somewhere between real and non-real; funny and frightening. It examines who pulls the strings in society, who controls how and what we watch, and how might this change. It’s an original, intelligent and important piece of theatre.