REVIEW: THE NICETIES (Finborough Theatre) ★★★★
The Niceties is an interesting, cleverly written, layered story that looks at race, racism and white privilege in America.
Set in the final year of Obama’s presidency, this two hander stars Janie Dee as Janine, a successful college professor and author, and Moronke Akinola as Zoe, one of her students. Zoe has brought her final year thesis to Janine for review and discussion in the hope of editing and polishing it to achieve the highest mark possible to enable her to take her dream job after graduation.
Janine initially fundamentally disagrees with the premise of Zoe’ thesis “a Successful American Revolution was only possible because the existence of slavery” arguing that there is no academic evidence to support her theory; mildly sneering at Zoe’s use of websites for research. Zoe argues that as the vast majority of published scholars in this field are male and white, it is not surprising that there is no available research to back her proposition.
Zoe argues that as a black woman she has a more fundamental understanding of how race affects people. She argues that the evidence Janine claims is missing is simply not there as no one bothered to record the experiences of slaves from their viewpoint.
As the two characters argue the situation Janine’s cosy belief system starts to be stripped away. Janine is a classic middle aged American liberal, drinking from a vote Hilary mug. She explains how she was one of the first women to enter the university that she now lectures at and feels she has worked hard to gain her position, while opening doors for other women to achieve. As the daughter of a Polish immigrant mother who worked as a cleaner, Janine sees her rise to her current position somehow making her immune to any criticism.
As Zoe evidences examples of what she believes to be Janine’s racist bias in her classes, Janine starts to unravel, refusing to accept the challenges claiming Zoe’s views are oversimplified, ignoring the social situation of the time of the civil war and finally just accusing her of negativity
The writer, Eleanor Burgess, has done a superb job with this play. The first act is centred around the discussion between the two main characters. The second act shows the consequences both characters have suffered as a result of their discussion becoming public. It is a very interesting, engaging and challenging piece of work.
Janie Dee as Janine is excellent. I really admire her choices as an actor. In the last year I have seen her in the huge production of the classic Sondheim musical Follies at the National Theatre; the lead in a great comedy Monogamy at The Park Theatre, a small part in a new musical, The Happy Prince at The Place, as well as in this role in a tiny theatre. Her choices are really unpredictable but always great and her roles are very varied but always hugely enjoyable.
Moronke Akinola makes her professional debut as Zoe and she is superb. Zoe is a challenging part and Akinola is extremely assured in the role.
Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Ali Wright
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA