The other day, I went to see the best play I’ve seen in many years at The Royal Court, called Clybourne Park. The reviewers kept saying it was a very funny satire about race and property, and I certainly couldn’t help laughing at the accurate portrayal of the ugly sides of human nature, although I thought the lines were designed for a middle class audience to feel on the comfortable side of “edgy”. It wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that’s on at Southwark Playhouse.
The first act played in a suburban house in America in the 1950s, and the second in the same house fifty years later. The 1950s white household are selling the house, as it happens to a black couple, in order to get away from the scene of their son’s suicide a few years previously. In the present day scene, the now entirely black neighbourhood has started a petition against a white couple’s planning permit.
The secondary theme of suicide seemed like a metaphor about the often tragic disparity between our private feelings of guilt about the past, and our need to put on a public show of equilibrium, of having mastered the darkness of history. Although perhaps being German I’m a special case, I can’t be the only one sometimes unsettled by what might really be concealed by grandparents I never met, in the savagery of my country’s past.
The curtain fell to uproarious applause, and I sat there feeling very silly, because at the time I had my wrist in plaster, and could not clap.