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Caricature by Clive Francis.
Les Blancs
National Theatre
From 22 March - 2 June 2016
From 22nd March 2016 Clive Francis appeared in the London premier of Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry at the National Theatre. The black American playwright Lorraine Hansberry had a tragically short life, dying of pancreatic cancer aged just 34, in 1965. But she burned bright, inspiring Nina Simone's song ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’, and moreover penning the Broadway standard A Raisin in the Sun. Her other plays are not well known, in part because they were mostly published after her death. The phenomenal South African director Yaël Farber makes her NT debut.
Photographer: Johan Peterson
Yael Farber’s searing production brings Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished play to life
Hansberry’s characters represent a vast array of humanity. She deeply understands – and demonstrates – that everyone is different, thinks differently, acts differently. Two searing performances dominate: Danny Sapani as Tshembe, an African man who has married a European woman, and Clive Francis as Major Rice. An officious, villainous racist – his character complemented by a moustache and uniform that strongly evoke Nazi iconography – Francis plays Rice with chilling, unrelenting callousness. Yet it is testament to Hansberry’s skill and Francis’s performance that he is still recognisably and believably human.
★★★★The Stage, Tim Bano

Hansberry’s play is not flawless, particularly in the somewhat declamatory second act. But Farber’s exquisite production tackles its moral complexities with finely calibrated assurance.
★★★★★The Telegraph, Jane Shilling
Yaël Farber’s skilful revival makes a powerful case for its importance. The scenes at their old family home have the texture of Greek drama. But the tone grows closer to Chekhov when the action shifts to a modest local hospital founded by missionaries. Hansberry’s scepticism about religious faith is palpable, and Tshembe comments that “Men invoke the device of religion to cloak their conquests.” Yet not everyone needs such a cloak — as proved by ruthless Major Rice, played with snarling precision by Clive Francis.
★★★★The Standard, Henry Hitchins

One’s intellectual doubts, however, are overcome by the sensuous sweep of Farber’s production, which deploys a revolving Soutra Gilmour set, the minatory hum of Adam Cork’s sound design, and impressive performances from Gary Beadle and Tunji Kasim as Tshembe’s brothers and from Siân Phillips, Anna Madeley, James Fleet and Clive Francis as contrasting facets of white interventionism. An imperfect play, given a near-perfect production.
★★★★The Guardian, Michael Billington