Tuesday, October 3

Beneatha’s Place – Young Vic

Artistic Director of the Young Vic, Kwame Kwei-Armah writes and directs a new piece, ‘Beneatha’s Place’, following a young black American woman, Beneatha (Cherrelle Skeete), who marries her professor Joseph Asagai (Zackary Momoh) and moves to Nigeria with him to start their new life together. The first act follows their first day moving into a white neighborhood; visitors from Joseph’s childhood bring warnings of growing political pressures that put him at risk. Beneatha, overwhelmed by this new life and unaware of the politics, must catch up on how to tackle racism differently here than how she would in America. The second act brings us further into the future, with Beneatha now a Dean of an Ivy League university, bringing her employees back to this home in Nigeria to discuss the new proposed course replacing African American Studies with ‘Critical Whiteness Studies’. This discussion highlights the many areas in which our culture is questioning how to move forward in ensuring history will not repeat itself. However, by replacing this course, is it not a repetition of white people taking the spaces that do not belong to them yet again?

The structure of this play spans over years of Beneatha’s life which highlights herself as a young activist, passionate to protest and make positive change. Over the first act, we are observers of her new life, and as Joseph runs to work amidst a heated argument with his employers, we experience a huge explosion and a Beneatha, a sudden widow. The impact of this devastating moment allows us to witness her beginning and cleverly gains our trust and sympathy as the next act throws us into a huge debate. Act 2 focuses solely on a real-time discussion she shares with her coworkers and heads of study as the school must decide whether to replace African American Studies with ‘Critical Whiteness Studies’. Here, we have watched Skeete subtly and skillfully adapt her character, which is nothing but impressive. They partake in extremely interesting topics: what does it mean to be privileged, are Black students tired of having to carry this history, how does White Guilt progress or hold back our efforts to change?

Photo: Johan Persson

Watching the two acts, they felt quite separate or possibly so different that I struggled to connect back. It was wonderful to get to know her as a young woman and to see that this traumatic killing brought an inspiring leader, but there was something disjointed about the sudden debate style. Although the topics were on the ball and consistently shocking, the characters in modern times felt too general and stereotyped for such in-depth and specific arguments. Characters had incredible points from different perspectives, but when it was narrowed down to a ‘Karen’ type response, I urged for more human feeling as shown in the first act. But perhaps these ‘types’ were exactly the intended device, as a result of the play we see that the true argument is that there is a huge difference in seeking education and seeking repentance.

This comes at an extremely relevant time as we navigate our future in society and to create space in places that Whiteness has dominated. Beneatha tells her young black colleague that the younger generation is not done with talking about race, ‘They are fatigued’. In this time where we are used to quick changes and fast answers, the time jump really highlights the time in which it will take to make impactful change and the willingness you need to have to fight for this your whole life. This play finds incredibly strong arguments and wills us to trust the process of time, only if we keep fighting for it.

Until 5th August, https://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/beneathas-place

Reviewer: Alice Rose

Reviewed: 5th July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.