The Brothers Size, Young Vic, London, review: Shares themes with writer Tarell Alvin McCraney's work on Oscar winner 'Moonlight'

This revival of McCraney's first play centres on two African-American brothers who reconnect after a spell in jail 

Kaleem Aftab
Wednesday 31 January 2018 12:30
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Sope Dirisu (left) as Ogun and Jonathan Ajayi as Oshoosi
Sope Dirisu (left) as Ogun and Jonathan Ajayi as Oshoosi

Writer Tarell Alvin McCraney picked up an Oscar for his work on Moonlight in 2017 and so it’s been deemed a fitting moment to revive and upsize his first play The Brothers Size, a show that debuted in the smaller upstairs studio at the Young Vic a decade ago.

Both the first drafts of The Brothers Size and what would eventually become the screenplay for the best picture Oscar winner Moonlight were written within weeks of each other when McCraney was in his early twenties and they both share similar preoccupations with black skin, masculinity, adolescence, life being a prison both inside and outside of jail and homosexuality.

The staging of the play is simple but effective. A chalk circle is drawn on stage representing the ring of life, but also it’s another boundary for Oshoosi Size (Jonathan Ajayi), his elder brother Ogun Henri Size (Sope Dirisu) and his former cell mate Elegba (Anthony Welsh) to try and escape.

Director Bijan Sheibani, who also helmed the production of the play a decade ago, keeps the staging simple with the use of red lighting to create a crosshair symbol that in cosmology is used to show alignment but is more generally considered a symbol of division. It’s the perfect compliment to a text is rooted to the mythologies of Yoruba cosmology and traditions.

It’s the physical presence of the actors and the lyrical tones of their patois that dominate. The performance of Dirisu is particularly domineering, while Ajayi delivers his lines with a shrill voice that at times verges on comic. The musicality of the words is matched by the live accompaniment of Manuel Pinheiro sitting at drums just off-stage. The dialogue is rooted in the oral traditions of African storytelling that evokes historical memories of slavery and the civil rights movement as it tells the story of the at times fractured fraternal relations and the interloper friend. These are characters that have problems escaping anything apart from the fourth wall, as they say stage directions before delivering their dialogue.

It’s incredibly stylish and wonderful to watch as the actors move around the stage in a chain or sing Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” but at the time the allegories come at the cost of the everyday drama between the three characters, which doesn’t always penetrate and so it’s the individual rather than collective performances that resonate most.

This is the last Main House show that’s being performed under the tenure of Artistic Director David Lan, and its easy to see why he would want to end on it, as The Brothers Size a fine example of ability to put the best young talent centre stage.

Until 14 February (youngvic.org)

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