Young Vic Theatre, London SE1
Opened 9 October, 2008

The title is realised literally, with the Young Vic’s main stage being flooded (to the depth of an inch or two, anyway) for the UK première of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play. The brown is, presumably, the colour of the African/American skin of almost all of them; the red is, inevitably, blood – at first, the menarcheal blood of protagonist Oya, later a much grislier issue.
This piece runs in the main house whilst McCraney’s first success, The Brothers Size, returns to its Maria studio. It is with shame that I admit that, on first seeing the earlier play, I missed the full impact of McCraney’s dramatic voice. I find myself now tuning in completely to a play which is less linear and more atmospheric. It is not simply a matter of Miriam Buether’s design, which turns the entire space into a zone unto itself, neither land nor water, a chamber in which meanings and connotations can reverberate; McCraney himself has created a world between worlds.
On the one hand there is the more or less contemporary American South, in which promising athlete Oya has a series of encounters – at best unsatisfactory, at worst tragic – with various local suitors whilst trying to find her path through life as a runner and/or a mother. On the other, the characters’ names divulge that they also represent figures from Yoruba mythology: Oya literally runs like the wind, and like her goddess namesake she is involved with both Shango and Ogun, as well as with the trickster-figure Elegba. (The latter two also occur in The Brothers Size, but although there are similarities of circumstance and history I am unsure how much sense it makes to speak of them being “the same” characters.)
As Oya, Ony Uhiara brings the same combination of physical coltishness and increasing disillusionment that she showed in the RSC’s tour of Noughts And Crosses early this year. Ashley Walters, the former Asher D of controversial rappers So Solid Crew, is a magnetic stage presence: more than once when Shango enters and another character reports that they see him (McCraney has his characters speak their stage directions), Shango responds, “How could she not?”, and with Walters one can believe it. Walter Meierjohann directs by specifying the physical aspects but leaving significance and allusion to fly free.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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