“I don’t want to have to think about race.” Young Jean Lee says about her latest production, ‘The Shipment’, which is being performed for the first time in the UK as part of London’s LIFT festival, opened to a predominantly white, middle aged, upper middle class audience.
‘The shipment’ begins as a minstrel show, with three acts in the first half; a dance, a stand-up comedian and a short play, all of which highlight the limited range of roles these actors were being offered every day. In a short amount of time, the dance managed to clearly portray the stereotype of hip hop and comic dance that is commonly associated with black people, with a routine that looked like it had drawn its inspiration from the hit 90’s comedy, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’.
Next, a stand-up comedian burst before us with provocative and outlandish humour, making everyone laugh until he asked: “Why do black comedians still do those ‘White people are like this, black people are like that’ jokes? Well, I’ll tell you why,” he says. “White people be evil.” The audience was shaken from that moment on, and the comedian continued to challenge and berate us by pointing out how he feels he is expected to act a certain way on stage (prancing about like Chris Rock) to entertain a white audience. By the end, everyone is left confused and uncomfortable. The comedian finishes by saying that he is married to a white, blonde haired, blue eyed woman, and he loves her very much.
The Brechtian short play at the end of the first act was successful in achieving Lee’s goal to make the audience unsure of what they were watching or how to respond. Several stereotypes that black people are faced with were used in this section; from drive by shootings, to drug and turf wars, to blaming their hard luck on white people, and to being “Video hoes” – through stilted, forced speech and over-exaggerated actions, we were invited to see just how ridiculous and insulting these stereotypes actually are.
The second half of ‘the Shipment’ is a naturalistic play written by Lee for her actors based on the roles they have always wanted to play, but never had the opportunity to. All of the characters longstanding friendships quickly spawn into hatred as they accuse and blame each other for their discretions, and only begin to accept each other’s company again through their shared, casual racism.
The importance of this plays social message cannot be stressed enough, because like the actors said, “We don’t live in a post-racial society, and it’s important for us to acknowledge that.” However in todays society it goes beyond white vs black – for us there is racism in every country and culture, with matching stereotypes that unfairly portray each race; White, Black, Asian, Muslim, Indian and Latino all alike. Maybe we could all progress a little bit further if Lee wrote a play based around all of these issues instead of just focussing on one. 4/5
Review written by Kitty Harper.
The Shipment is currently showing at The Barbican Theatre until Saturday 14th June. The production is apart of this year’s LIFT festival. For more information on the production, visit here…