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A CurtainUp London London Review

Do all black people hate whites? You bet we do! — Henry Brown
Jasper Britton as Jack Lawson and Clarke Peters as Henry Brown (Photo: Alastair Muir)
David Mamet's 2009 play Race, set in a New York lawyer's office is a fascinating study of the American legal process, when a white defendant seeks to hire this firm to get him off the hook in a rape case, brought by an African American woman. The ultra competitive world of top lawyers is exposed by Mamet in what may have been intended as tongue in cheek, but which I suspect is pretty close to what actually happens. The case itself seems to predict that of the real life French financier Dominic Strauss-Kahn accused of rape in 2011 by a hotel maid in New York and who settled out of court in 2012.

With Terry Johnson directing, we get a rapid fire dialogue from the principals of the mixed race law firm headed up by Jack Lawson (Jasper Britton) and African American, Henry Brown (Clarke Peters). The wit and repartee is so excellent, I could quite happily have watched the characters in Race slotted into a long running television series.

I echo the review from my editor when she saw the play in New York, (NY Review). As she said, Lawson and Brown are in a no win situation. They find out that the Jewish law firm of Greenstein has cast off their potential client Charles Strickland (Charles Daish, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Bill Clinton, with a touch of Donald Trump body stockiness, but without the comb over hair) and know that few white jurors will want to let him off as they might be accused of racism and that black jurors will not find a white man innocent.

Complicating these fine legal decisions and second guessing, is the part played by Lawson and Brown's junior, Harvard graduate Susan (Nina Toussaint-White) a young woman of African American heritage who just happens to have lied on her application form and seems to be making errors that will land her employers in the mire. As this is Mamet, nothing will be simple and the complex cross and double cross will have the inattentive thoroughly perplexed. The red sequinned dress worn by the alleged rape victim is a crucial detail.

Yes it is a bit heavy handed with explicit language but some of the wit is Wildean, “One can win any case as long as one only takes on cases one can win,” says Susan who has obviously learnt one lesson or Jack's worldly wise comment, “None of us is immune from a false accusation.”

The London set looks remarkably similar to the New York one, an impressive library of leather bound volumes and solid wooden, expensive but durable furniture. Through the windows we can see the glass skyscrapers of the financial district. There is attention to detail though in the yellow legal pads used in America but not in the UK.

Jasper Britton is in his element with hair long on top, short at the back which springs out of place and he has to comb back with his fingers. He can zap the one liners like a submachine gun and he paces around in a predatory manner, demonstrating his quicksailver mind. Clarke Peter's Henry is a master of the ironic delivery and the shocking aphorism delivered with a richness of vocal quality. I laughed like a drain.

Nina Toussaint-White in her first major role is excellent and keeps us guessing in her business suit with a very short skirt and high heels. Charles Daish's accused is bemused by the accusation and the reprehensible blast from his past, not the behaviour but the origin of which, I didn't find entirely credible. I found Race highly enjoyable.

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Written by David Mamet
Directed by Terry Johnson

Starring: Jasper Britton, Clarke Peters, Charles Daish, Nina Toussaint-White
Designed by Tim Shortall
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Running time: One hour 25 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 29th June 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th May 2013 performance at the Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 3EU (Tube: Swiss Cottage)

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