A Raisin in the Sun/Rhinoceros, Lyric Hammersmith, London

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The Independent Culture

There are two compelling reasons for making a trip to the Lyric Hammersmith.

There are two compelling reasons for making a trip to the Lyric Hammersmith. On the main stage is David Lan's superb revival of A Raisin in the Sun, the landmark play by Lorraine Hansberry that was the first work about the black American experience to achieve success on Broadway. Meanwhile, the Irish company Kabosh have created a cramped, tumbledown house in the theatre's rehearsal space where, each night, 44 punters are subjected to a wittily wacky adaptation of Ionesco's Rhinoceros.

Hansberry's 1950s piece - in which a poor, black, Chicago family decide to use a windfall of insurance money to purchase a house in an all-white neighbourhood - has some of the handicaps of a "well-made'' play. But the beautifully layered performances here and the meticulousness of the ensemble give the proceedings an almost symphonic power as the drama gathers to its tremendous, positive, conclusion.

Lennie James is absolutely outstanding as Walter, the son who progresses from shiftlessness to resumed pride via the scorching humiliation of being cheated out of his money. Even when conveying the least admirable aspects of the character, there is something wonderfully big-hearted about his portrayal.

Novella Nelson radiates dignity and formidability as the larger-than-life, if also somewhat limited, Mama. There is, significantly, only one white character in the play - a smarmy man who comes with the intention of bribing the black family to stay out of his neighbourhood.

It is a terrific evening, and there was nothing forced or press-night-political about the standing ovation that greeted Lan's magnificent cast.

The herd instinct is satirised more existentially in Ionesco's Rhinoceros, in which all the inhabitants of a town, bar one, are turned into the title creature. There have been valiant and doomed attempts to adapt this piece. Peter Hall, for example, directed a musical version of it at Chichester, with costumes by Gerald Scarfe.

The logic of Kabosh's retooling (the audience sits in a claustrophobic, peeling mock-up of a domestic interior) eludes me, but the show has a demented energy and boasts mad, high-definition performances. It's typical that one sequence takes place in complete darkness. If you wish to leave during the black-out, you are requested to raise your arm and shout, "Usher, usher, good God, man, get me an usher!''

'Raisin' to 26 March; 'Rhinoceros' to 26 March (0870 050 0511)

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