In 2012 the Hampstead theatre made its mark with a tale about two athletes competing for glory at the world’s biggest sporting event; this year, with the UK premiere of David Mamet’s 2009 play, the Swiss Cottage venue explores an altogether different kind of race.
Set in the office of a law firm, Race tells the story of Charles Strickland, a white man accused of raping a black woman. After the company’s lawyers Henry Brown and Jack Lawson – one black, the other white – find themselves involuntarily in charge of defending him, they seek to prove his innocence with the help of their black female junior Susan.
The evidence is stacked against them, from witness testimonies to character references, but the renowned and successful double act taking on the case have a plan up their sleeve, which relies on the absence of sequins, belonging to the victim’s dress, found at the crime scene.
Jasper Britton gives an energetic performance as Jack, a hot-headed white man with an answer for everything, constantly irate by the way in which race is viewed in the courtroom, while Clarke Peters, who endows Henry with an air of swagger, brings a calmer and more calculated approach to the issue, offering a more realistic outlook on the dynamics of ethnic relations.
Charles Daish is tasked with portraying the accused, a somewhat dislikeable figure who, guilty or not, fails to receive sympathy from either lawyer, while Nina Toussaint-White’s Susan, a promising attorney in the making, seems on the surface an obedient aid, but her accusatory and questioning attitude soon enables her employers to learn that she isn’t as compliant as they initially thought.
Not only does Terry Johnson’s sharp production offer an insight into racial discrimination, it also delves deeply into the inner workings of a solicitor’s mind, making intriguing suggestions as to the thought processes and pre-conceived ideas of a jury and the way in which the jurors’ minds can be manipulated in order to achieve the desired outcome.
With Chesterfield armchairs in every corner and gilt-edged books lining the walls, this is a room brimming with prejudice and, while Mamet provides some wonderfully witty quotes that send the audience into hysterics, his play offers a bleak view of racial relations and the inability of society to see beyond the colour of a person’s skin.