Bush Theatre, London

Theatre review: Disgraced - When the melting pot boils over

4.00

A raw, Pulitzer-winning view of American multicultural tensions crosses the Atlantic in style

Amir had a Muslim surname, but has changed it to Kapoor. He has also fudged whether his parents came from Pakistan or India and spurned his mother's virulent anti-Semitism. Now a dapper New York attorney – more than a decade after 9/11 – he scorns Islam as backward and chauvinist.

He finds himself incensed, nonetheless, by colleagues' enquiries about his supposed hidden sympathies in Disgraced. That's not to mention Isaac, the gallery owner who has taken a shine to Amir's wife, Emily. She's a liberal, Wasp artist who admires and imitates Islamic art for its serenity. She's also pushing her husband to defend a local imam who is at risk of incarceration without due process.

American writer Ayad Akhtar's depiction of troubled multiculturalism has been awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama. His souring dinner-party debate may be a rather obvious set-up, yet it becomes psychologically complex, revealing and ferociously raw. Disgraced unearths old ethnic hostilities and supremacist urges, within the domestic arena, that few plays have dared to vent.

Rising director Nadia Fall's UK premiere merits a transfer to the National, with its excellent cast including Hari Dhillon as the ultimately distraught Amir, Kirsty Bushell as Emily, and Danny Ashok as his alarmingly radicalised nephew.

In Yellow Face (Park90, Park Theatre, London ****), the Obie-winning Asian-American writer David Henry Hwang explores racial issues by presenting us with a fantastic autobiographical docudrama. This is a satire – a knowingly self-undermining one – which raises profound questions about how we categorise ourselves and others, and about individuals' confused mix of political correctness, yearning for assimilation and persistent prejudices.

It begins with Hwang onstage (played by Kevin Shen) as he becomes a high-profile protester, stopping Jonathan Pryce being cast as the Eurasian lead in Miss Saigon on Broadway in 1990. Soon Shen's Hwang is squirming, trying to suppress the fact that he has blindly miscast a non-Asian actor, Marcus, in a Chinese-American role in his own play, Face Value. Forced to pretend that he is of Sino-Siberian stock, Marcus (Ben Starr) proceeds to live that lie, becoming a star-campaigner against bigotry on behalf of the Asian community. The playwright reviles Marcus, only to be caught up – via his immigrant banker dad – in the election-financing controversy of 1996, which unleashed a wave of anti- Chinese xenophobia.

A rapid-fire mix of answer-machine messages and late-night calls, arm-twisting interviews, newspaper reports and noxious pronouncements from Republican senators, Yellow Face is a chamber play that encompasses global issues while remaining intimate and entertaining. Its British premiere is a theatrical coup, opening the 90-seat studio space at north London's new Park Theatre. Alex Sims's production boasts a fine ensemble – including David Yip – swapping roles as they dart round a tiny, glowing stage under paper lanterns. Recommended.

The consequences of fibbing are comparatively trivial in Relatively Speaking (Wyndham's, London ****), a 1967 comedy by Alan Ayckbourn. London bedsit dweller, Ginny has a new boyfriend, Greg, who is keen to tie the knot. But, she has been having a fling with her boss, Philip, and dashes off to his house in leafy Buckinghamshire, claiming to be visiting her parents.

Philip's wife, Sheila, is unexpectedly at home, and when Greg also turns up – to ask Ginny's supposed father for permission to marry – the misconstrued exchanges proliferate. Indeed, so many sticks are grasped by the wrong end that the two-timers' piled-high fabrications feel like a game of spillikins, miraculously not collapsing.

Lindsay Posner's revival is certainly enjoyable. Designer Peter McKintosh whisks Ginny's poky flat from under your nose and pulls a redbrick house – complete with patio – from up his sleeve. Jonathan Coy's Philip is very amusing, trying to play it cool then exploding in jealous fits. Felicity Kendal is charming as the politely bewildered Sheila. However, Kara Tointon sometimes rattles through her lines, while Max Bennett contrives to endow Greg with initial flashes of possessive ardour before his character shallows out. It is relatively superficial in the end.

Finally, a reminder that I've also been tweeting on Life and Times, Parts 1-5, imported from Manhattan by the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Search for Kate Bassett @tabs12345 on Twitter for my coverage of this marathon show, from 1.30pm yesterday to 1.30am this morning.

 

'Disgraced' to 29 June; 'Yellow Face' to 16 Jun; 'Relatively Speaking' to 31 Aug

Critic's Choice

Conor McPherson's wonderful The Weir – set in an isolated Irish pub – is funny and tender, if not hair-raisingly eerie, with Brian Cox and Ardal O'Hanlon at London's Donmar (to 8 Jun). Barrie Rutter plays the bullying patriarch in Rutherford and Son, Githa Sowerby's portrait of a Victorian, factory-owning dynasty. Jonathan Miller's revival is at York Theatre Royal (Tues to Sat) before its West End run.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea