A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry
Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford, and touring
(2005)

A Raisin in the Sun production photograph

The Young Vic has revived its 2001 production of Lorraine Hansberry's award-winning play A Raisin in the Sun directed by artistic director David Lan. When it was produced on Broadway in 1959, Hansberry won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play of the Year, becoming, at the time, the youngest American and the only African American to have done so. Just five years later, she died of cancer at the age of 34.

The play gets its title from Langston Hughes's poem A Montage of a Dream Deferred - "What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun / Or fester like a sore - / And then run?" The dreams in question are those of a black American family living in a rented, cockroach-infested apartment on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s. Lena, the matriarch of the family, receives a large insurance cheque after her husband's death and cannot decide what to do with the money. Her son wants to invest in a liquor store to break generations of servitude and join the middle class American Dream; her daughter wants to go to medical school and become a doctor; her son's wife would like a decent home for the whole family. Hansberry does a remarkable job of putting together a number of characters - none of which is portrayed as wholly good or wholly bad - that represent radically different points of view convincingly and she makes it seem so simple and natural.

This production certainly does justice to this great play. Whilst there are no weak performances, Novella Nelson as Lena, Lennie James as her son Walter Lee and Noma Dumezweni as his wife Ruth give particularly powerful performances. Francis O'Connor's set design cleverly shows us both inside and outside the apartment simultaneously, although sometimes it is difficult to work out the layout of the rooms in relation to one another in the house. Tim Mitchell's lighting design manages to be both natural and atmospheric, and the soundtrack, which combines Richard Hammarton's original music with classic jazz tracks from the period, fits perfectly.

This production finds the full emotional range in this play, moving its audience from laughter to frustration and tears. This talented, hard-working cast does an excellent job of bringing to life one of the most important American plays of the twentieth century.

"A Raisin in the Sun" runs until 9 April and continues to tour until 7 May

Reviewer: David Chadderton