Afrocentric Theatre, Music, Culture and Business

Appropriate @ Donmar Warehouse (Play Review) Appropriate @ Donmar Warehouse (Play Review)
Appropriate @ Donmar Warehouse (Play Review)

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, 4,084 African-Americans were lynched between 1877 and 1950 in the South. Some hangings were professionally photographed and sold as postcards, which were popular souvenirs in some parts of the U.S., body parts were also sometimes removed and sold as souvenirs in stores.


This and the enduring interest by theatre in the dysfunctional American family are explored in playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins 2014 play currently playing at the Donmar Warehouse.


The Lafyette siblings have arrived to sell the estate of their recently departed father property and the mass of artefacts he hoarded. Immediately on arrival old rivalries surface which much bickering about who should benefit most from the sale’s proceeds.


Toni, the eldest, who spent many months being her father’s caregiver prior to his death, much to the detriment of her own family life, assumes that she would be rewarded with the lions share.


Bo, the brother thinks he should get the bigger share of the spoils as he was the one that was ‘bankrolling’ the property to ensure his father had a roof over his head in his last days.


Frank, the youngest despite been estranged from the family for almost a decade has not only come for forgiveness from the family but to inherit what he feels is rightfully his having been the only child to spend time with their father growing up.


Rather than coming to bury the hatchet, further cans of worms open up and personal grudges are laid bare through a torrent of vicious barbed comments and retorts. This vitriolic jousting match comes to a juddering halt when an album containing grotesque pictures and postcards of African-American being lynched is discovered.


How each family member comprehends and processes this earth-shattering news and the conflict that arises as each defends their position and whether or not their father was racist or at worst a member of the Ku Klux Klan is the heart of the intriguing production.


The sufferings of the people in the images is given scant recognition, what matters to the Layettes, is who can use them to their personal or political gain. The album is just latest morsel of meat for this constantly warring family to fight over.


Olivier award-winning Monica Dolan is excellent as Toni, foul-mouthed with a take no prisoners attitude who is prepared to take on all comers to defend in her eyes, her position at the top of the family tree. Steve Mackintosh is first-rate as the second in line brother Bo, always on the lookout for chinks to exploit in Toni’s armour so as not to be outdone in their battle of wits.


Edward Hogg is superbly funny as the seemingly confused but with always with one eye on the prize youngest brother, eager to please all and to be redeemed by the family but underneath scheming to gain the most from this turbulent situation.


There’s excellent support from Jami Barbakoff as Rachel, Bo’s much put upon Jewish wife, always looking to stamp her authority in the family, Charles Furness turns in a good performance as Rhys, Toni’s angry and frustrated son who blames his mother for his parents’ divorce as does Tafline Steen as River, Frank’s ever supportive new age girlfriend.


With Fly Davis’s eye-popping  opening set design we get a great sense of the splendour of a Southern plantation mansion. With the constant haunting background sound of cicadas and the frequent plunging of the stage into pitch darkness,  many have suggested that Appropriate is really a ghost story in the most profound sense.


Director Ola Ince (The Convert, The Dutchman) has possibly taken this idea and combined it with an intelligent and subtle analysis of the essence of the American family and its dark racial undertones to produce a work of great imagination and perceptiveness. She allows us to sit and watch how one small issue can result in the disintegration of a family. Something many in the audience will be familiar with.


Without leaning too much in any direction this comedy-drama not only cleverly touches on race and sexuality but also allows us to much reflection on how much of ourselves and what we’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of the family.


Appropriate, Till October 5, Donmar Warehouse WC2H 9LX Tickets and details https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/production/7188/appropriate/

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