Monday, 29 January 2018

Theatre review: The Brothers Size

After twenty or so years running the Young Vic it’s understandable if David Lan wants to bring back a past hit in his final season; and unsurprising if that’s The Brothers Size, given playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s high profile following Moonlight’s win (and the headline-grabbing mix-up) at last year’s Oscars. This is the play that first made McCraney’s name in the UK and, written around the same as the unperformed play that inspired Moonlight, it’s different but recognisably covers some of the same ground. Oshoosi Size (Jonathan Ajayi) has recently been released from prison and, while on parole, is living with his older brother Ogun (Sope Dirisu,) a mechanic who’s been making a success of his own garage while Oshoosi’s been away. Oshoosi is enjoying his freedom and wants his own car so he can test its limits, but Ogun insists he get a job and stick strictly to the terms of his probation.

A different pull comes from Elegba (Anthony Welsh,) the friend Oshoosi made in prison, and who Ogun suspects will drag his brother straight back into crime.


There’s an element of truth in that but their relationship is a bit more complicated than it first appears; Elegba’s offhand comment about his friend being the most beautiful man he’d ever seen is a clue, but even by the end the way Oshoosi feels in return remains ambiguous. In fact this isn’t a play that ties any of its themes up too neatly, or indeed one where much happens – it’s more about the relationship between the brothers as well as the one between the friends, and how the latter affects the former (Ogun is irritated whenever Elegba calls Oshoosi “brother” in the metaphorical sense.) The way race might have affected where their lives are now is only subtly touched upon (there’s a mention of how the black sheriff is every bit as likely to racially profile them as any white cop.)


Although grounded in reality The Brothers Size is largely about the men’s dreams, including in the literal sense, and Bijan Sheibani’s production plays as a mix of storytelling and ritual: Patrick Burnier’s set puts stadium seating in the round, with the cast drawing a red and white chalk circle on the stage at the start, getting covered with the dust as the story goes on. I’m not sure the acoustics of this setup always helped with the strong Louisiana accents used, so a bit too much dialogue did get lost, but Sheibani uses a lot of movement, dance, and music (played live by sound designer Manuel Pinheiro) to create the effect he’s going for.


This is powerfully acted and does in fact make for an interesting companion piece to Moonlight as well as, taken in conjunction with The Suppliant Women, create an ongoing theme at the Young Vic of exploring theatre as ritual. (Also, as it’s featured the actors speaking the stage directions throughout, it ends with Dirisu announcing “End of Play;” a tactic Ian thought more shows, especially those whose endings drag on a bit, could do with adopting.)

The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney is booking until the 14th of February at the Young Vic.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner.

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