I was embarrassingly eager to see this, one of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s earlier works, on a triumphant return to the Young Vic. McCraney’s profile has naturally risen since Moonlight (2016), and his renown is all deserved. In The Brothers Size, part of his Brother/Sister trilogy, two (three?) brothers in Louisiana circle each other, snapping at each other’s heels, sometimes with affection, at other times with annoyance. Though they often want to, they can’t quite pull away. A number of things tie them together, chief among this being love.
The set design here takes its cues from previous stagings at the Under the Radar Festival and the Young Vic: at the start, a chalk circle is drawn, and red dust thrown, spread around the space with back, hands and feet. None of the actors come away clean. It is beautifully simple, yet so few smaller productions do anything half as immediately effective or imaginative. This and the sound design, both outlined in McCraney’s script and part of the innovations of this production, contribute to the sense of ritual. All of the creatives involved deserve mentioning by name, but worth a particular notice is Manuel Pinheiro’s live sound throughout, Patrick Burnier‘s design, and Michael Henry’s direction for voice music. The ways in which the actors touch, grunt, sing and spar looks effortless, and Aline David’s choreography shines, making other plays seem static and dead in comparison.
The stage directions, spoken aloud according to McCraney’s instruction, often deliver moments of straight comedy with their blunt underlining of the action. The names of the characters Ogun (Sope Dirisu), Elegba (Anthony Welsh) and Oshoosi (Jonathan Ajayi) are the most obvious reference to Yoruba mythology, but it beats thick beneath the surface of the play throughout. The setting is non- specific (the “distant present”), but could be anytime, because black men in Louisiana or anywhere in America or this country, are still subject to what the play details. McCraney’s script is not perfect, which is the only criticism I can find – it’s barely a criticism – but it has moments of real beauty, pain, and cuts you to the heart. He writes tenderness best of all.
In The Brothers Size, we see a script by an excellent playwright, competent and sensitive choices pulled together by director Bijan Shelbani, and three actors with boundless ability and control. It’s a production that fills you with fierce, free joy, and one that should not be missed if you can help it.