CAN’T GET TICKETS? The Box Office will sell any returned tickets 1 hour before the show. Customers wanting to queue before that time are welcome to do so in our foyer and we will provide a seating area. Please note that customers can purchase a maximum of 2 return tickets. It is essential to be at Hampstead Theatre to join our returns queue. We cannot offer any places via telephone or email, or sell any returns earlier than one hour before the performance.
★★★★ It’s invigorating, high-octane stuff, powerfully acted by all four of the cast, with Jasper Britton as Jack Lawson absolutely captivating The Sunday Times
A hotel room in disarray – lamps broken, cigarette butts, liquor bottles – a red sequin dress, and a man accused of rape… The accused white, the accuser black.
Two lawyers, one black and one white, have to uncover and sift through the facts of the case: is the man guilty? And, irrespective of that, can his case be won?
Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet’s (Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, The Untouchables and Speed-the-Plow) play offers a topical detective story about the perceptions and realities that colour our world – and the subtle shades between being a victim and being victimised.
Olivier award winner Terry Johnson returns to Hampstead Theatre following the sell-out hit Old Money last season, The Memory of Water, Cracked and Dead Funny. He has directed numerous West End and Broadway favourites such as the Tony Award winning La Cage Aux Folles, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and his stage adaptation of The Graduate.
Clarke Peters (HBO’s The Wire and Othello, Sheffield Crucible) makes his Hampstead Theatre debut. He is joined by Jasper Britton (The Taming of the Shrew, RSC), Charles Daish (A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar) and Nina Toussaint-White (ITV’s Switch and EastEnders).
Running time is approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes with no interval. Please note latecomers will not be admitted.
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Race: tricky subject. One needs to be sensitive. “As a Jew,” David Mamet wrote in The New York Times, “there is nothing a non-Jew can say to a Jew on the subject of Jewishness that is not patronising, upsetting or simply wrong.” Tsk. Typical touchy Jew.
For good measure, Mamet throws rape into the mix as well. The story deals with the forthcoming trial of a wealthy white businessman, Charles Strickland, accused of raping a black maid in a hotel. The play was eerily prescient, written before the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair — it first appeared on Broadway in 2009. Here, it is powerfully revived under Terry Johnson’s expert direction. It’s a one-act piece, the action taking place in the offices of the lawyers Jack Lawson (white) and Henry Brown (black). Do they take it on, defending Strickland, or is this case just toxic, whatever the outcome? Many people will already have decided Strickland is guilty, simply because he’s rich and white and the alleged victim is poor and black. This is the black lawyer’s argument. The play is full of such enjoyably startling moments.
Things are complicated by the fact that the young lawyer just taken on at the firm, Susan (Nina Toussaint-White), is also black, and sexy and opinionated, too. It’s invigorating, high-octane stuff, powerfully acted by all four of the cast, with Jasper Britton as Jack Lawson absolutely captivating. The hard-as-nails one-liners rattle out one after the other; the ping-pong dialogue bristles with cynical, worldly wisdom, as once again we’re transported to that familiar, hypermasculine Mamet landscape of men in suits striding about, perching on the edges of desks, speaking as if they’ve just inhaled several cans of Red Bull. The designer Tim Shortall’s office is a magnificent slice of oak and mahogany and leather-bound books. The lawyers’ savvy is serving them well.
Close your eyes, though, and they are little differentiated, quirk-free, impermeable. They are changeless and not entirely human, and you’re never really going to like any of them. A Mamet hotshot lawyer is 100% a hotshot lawyer and nothing else. Here is a strictly Darwinian view of human life and transactions. Whaddya got? If female, your weapons are “chiefly… youth and beauty”. If you’re a man, it’s better to be “old and rich”. “And white?” “You bet.”
Ever-exhilarating, Mamet takes on herd thinking and timidity with great gusto, his characters’ ferocious exchanges always thought-provoking, indeed thought-demanding. It’s quite a relief simply to hear race discussed at all, especially with so much passion and candour, as here. Racial divisions won’t go away, Mamet is insisting, just because we pretend they have. Meanwhile, we get Susan protesting to her boss, Jack Lawson: “You think black people are stupid?” “I think all people are stupid. I don’t think blacks are exempt.”
The play excavates and excoriates both covert racism, white and black, as well as a range of liberal pieties, suggesting all sorts of risqué things about white fear and abasement, squirming white shame and misplaced guilt. It also takes a hard look at black identity politics, black bloc-thinking and bloc-voting: the way, for instance, in which all-black juries tend to find black people innocent and white people guilty.
A black woman has accused a rich white guy of raping her in a hotel room. He’s asking a law firm, comprised of one white and one black man, Lawson and Brown, to represent him. Add into the equation an African-American graduate, Susan, hired as Lawson’s protégée, with her hackles raised.
David Mamet doesn’t mince his words in Race. His title shouts out the contentious issue (though gender, arguably, deserves equal billing). The attorneys are post-PC, firing off brazenly challenging axioms about racial dynamics, exposing others’ concealed bigotry and their own.
In director Terry Johnson’s UK premiere, set in an oak-panelled office, one might weary of Jasper Britton’s motor-mouthed Lawson and the epigrammatic pronouncements. Clarke Peters’ Brown is magnetic, though, when quietly stewing, and Nina Toussaint-White’s Susan pushes Lawson, sharply, on to the back foot. The result is an engaging brew of wit, rage, and shifting sympathies.
‘Do you know what you can say to a black man on the subject of race?’ Henry (Clarke Peters), a black lawyer, asks Jack, a white partner in a classy American law firm.
‘Nothing,’ answers Jack (Jasper Britton).
‘Correct,’ says Henry.
If you want to hear the unsayable stated, the unaskable posed, go to Race, David Mamet’s sharp-tongued, comic courtroom drama.
Terry Johnson’s superbly acted production is all about power and performance, which is what a lawyer has to be good at, after all.
But the play itself is too playful to be as pointed and potent as it possibly could be.
But that’s Mamet for you.