Monday, August 26, 2019
Appropriate @ Donmar Warehouse...
It's hard to believe Appropriate was written way back in 2014; it seems so precisely pointed at the current 'post-truth' culture ushered in by climate change deniers, and boggling accusations of fake news that you'd think Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had penned it within the past few months. It must instead be a testament to the inescapable and unflinching truths that Jacobs-Jenkins' writing brings centre-stage that the play has so much to reflect on in 2019.
Appropriate focuses around the dysfunctional Lafayette family. They have been forced to convene to deal with their recently-deceased father's immensely unkempt plantation house. The family chiefly consist of three siblings; oldest sister, argumentative and devoted Toni (Monica Dolan), middle brother, pragmatic yet money-driven Bo (Steven Mackintosh), and the youngest brother, fraught recovering addict Franz (Edward Hogg).
Tensions rise to extreme levels over the ghosts of their pasts, as they are forced to reconcile with the notion that – being a plantation owner – their father may not have been as good a man as they'd initially thought. Horrific photographs are discovered of slaves being lynched, gruesome human remains are discovered in jars.
The insecurities and inherited generational ignorance are exacerbated further by Toni's reclusive son Rhys (Charles Furness), Franz's notably younger fiancée River (Tafline Steen), and Bo's mothering wife Rachael (Jaimi Barbakoff) and teenage daughter Cassie (Isabella Pappas) who's determined to be treated like an adult. Each character feels like they've been crafted to prod and provoke the others in ways that are a joy to watch. Sparks start to fly.
Ola Ince's direction brings out great performances from all the cast, although Dolan is particularly noteworthy as the ferocious centre of most of the play's conflict. That's not to say that Jacobs-Jenkins' script doesn't give every character a chance to shine; Furness and Pappas, for example, share a sensitive and poignant scene reflecting on the buzz of the cicadas surrounding the house – a cacophony brought to life by Donato Wharton's claustrophobic sound design. Other design elements are equally exceptional, such as the Lafayettes' late father's hoarding realised brilliantly in the overwhelmingly creaky and creepy set from Fly Davis.
And although Appropriate is presented mainly as family drama, there are also undercurrents of horror – characters feel presences, lights flicker, and objects move of their own volition when no-one's in the room. The play gave the impression that these two genres were going to collide spectacularly in the play's climax - but sadly they didn't. There is a bit of a fizzle at the end - an underwhelming montage. Which is a shame, because Appropriate is otherwise an urgent wake-up call to how the way we remember the past could be cataclysmic for the future.