Race first opened on Broadway in 2009 and ran for almost 300 performances, directed by its Pulitzer Prizewinning writer, David Mamet. It follows law partners Lawson and Brown and their mentee, Susan, as they discuss whether to take on a case where a wealthy, white client has allegedly raped a black woman. As the allegations and accusations pile up, each character's fundamental values, beliefs, and prejudices must be scrutinised and justified. It’s slick and sharp, like an American television legal drama.
This internationally renowned standard of writing and performance is a rare treat on a Fringe theatre stage
This production, directed by Clare Mortimer, comes from South Africa, a country that has its own history of racial prejudice to face. In association with Assembly Festival, The Playhouse Company from Durban comes to Edinburgh after a successful run in South Africa last year. The performances are outstanding: as bold as the writing demands and as sensitive as the nuances of prejudice expect. André Jacobs is a particularly skilled force of nature, while Nondumiso Tembe is fiery enough to cut the other characters down to size and Peter Butler's bone dry humour is deservedly appreciated. The stakes are high throughout and each one of the four actors brings the required energy and commitment.
The writing sizzles with stinging brutality. Nothing is unspeakable as the dialogue blasts along at a realistic pace. It's comic at times and there are chuckles and sniggers from the audience throughout. However, the loudest responses are shocked gasps, triggered by the scale of the plot twists and the biting humour. It's not just the continuing dilemma of race that Mamet wants to explore; social class and the justice system receive the same treatment. Each revelation is brilliantly handled by the company; there is no foreshadowing and each turn comes as a complete surprise.
However, as a critic of the original Broadway production brought up, shouldn't this play also address the similarly intrinsic prejudices our society has about gender? In a play about rape, it feels like Mamet is only telling us half a story. Perhaps it is by focussing on the effect and impression of racism that Mamet feels he can make a general comment on any prejudice ("This isn't about sex, it's about race." "What's the difference?"). Also, towards the end, it starts to feel as if plot twists are coming for the sake of shocking us, taking an otherwise naturalistic production slightly into the realm of disbelief.
This internationally renowned standard of writing and performance is a rare treat on a Fringe theatre stage, for which the production justly received a standing ovation. The only thing that lets it down slightly is the script, which starts to feel like it’s getting carried away with itself.