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American Trade

Published 9 June 2011

Like its neon-lit, graffiti-splattered set, the latest play from American wunderkind Tarell Alvin McCraney is big, brash, bold and as colourful as a rainbow of disco balls.

The latest play from the writer of previous Young Vic hits The Brothers Size and In The Red And Brown Water is billed as a ‘contemporary restoration comedy’. It certainly fits the bill with a roster of exuberant characters, a chaotic, fast-paced plot, and more sex than you can shake a… well, let’s not go there. In fact there are more tiny pants on the Hampstead stage than in a collection of exhausted Chihuahuas.

The plot follows Pharus, a young, mixed-race American who makes a living as a rent boy to the elite. Played by Tunji Kasim, whose physique would make Adonis weep with jealousy – I would not normally mention this, but when we meet our protagonist he is clad just in tone-setting very tight, very small red shorts that leave little to the imagination – he is a quick-thinking swift-acting chancer who has crossed the wrong man in rap mogul Jules.

A job offer from a long-lost English PR firm-owning aunt brings him to London, with our hero picking up more waifs and strays along the way than a womble picks up litter, and finding himself caught amid a family power struggle.

Subtlety, you may gather, is not at the heart of this Jamie Lloyd-directed production. Lloyd is a director with a burgeoning reputation, and here it feels at though he has given his cast full rein to produce characters that burst out of the Hampstead’s stage, from Sheila Reid’s diminutive, manipulative PR head to Adam Burton’s celebrity reporter for the youth and Hannah Young’s concerned air traveller who indulges in a rather unique form of in-flight stress relief.

Contemporary American Trade may be, but like all good restoration comedies, it takes the recognisable now and gives it a shot of steroids to create a world of thumping stereotypes and over the top performances. Do such overblown bombastic characters illuminate 21st century life? I don’t know. Celebrity, sex, power, corruption, money and fame are all touched upon. But the silliness made me laugh and, with the music, lighting and loudness of the performance, you certainly know you’ve seen a show by the end of the 90 minutes.



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