Beneatha’s Place Reviews

A reviews round-up for Beneatha’s Place, which has opened at The Young Vic theatre in London.

Beneatha’s Place is a new satire written by the Young Vic’s Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, about power, politics and race, and inspired by the modern classic A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

The play is set in 1959 and the present day, moving from the first wave of independence sweeping across Africa, where Beneatha has left the prejudice of 1950s America for a brighter future with her Nigerian husband in Lagos; and her present day life as a renowned Dean, whose colleagues are questioning the role of African American studies for future generations.

The Beneatha’s Place cast includes Cherrelle Skeete as Beneatha Younger, Zackary Momoh as Joseph Asagai/Wale Oguns, Sebastian Armesto as Daniel Barnes/Prof Mark Bond, Jumoké Fashola as Prof Shirley Jones/Aunty Fola, Tom Godwin as Mr Nelson/Prof Gary Jacobs, and Nia Gwynne as Mrs. Nelson/Dr Harriet Banks.

Written and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the creative team also includes: Designer Debbie Duru; Lighting Designer Mark Henderson;  Sound Designer Tony Gayle;  Voice and Dialect Coach Esi Acquaah-Harrison;  Movement Director Shelley Maxwell;  Casting Director Heather Basten CDG;  Senior Casting Assistant Fran Cattaneo;  Casting Assistant Iman Wilson;  Jerwood Assistant Director Ellis;  Jerwood Trainee Assistant Director Tia-zakura Camilleri;  Company Stage Manager Annette Waldie;  Deputy Stage Manager Aimee Woods;  and Assistant Stage Manager Tayla Hunter.

Beneatha’s Place is running at The Young Vic until 5 August 2023.

Read reviews from the Times, Telegraph, Evening Standard, Guardian and more.

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Beneatha’s Place reviews

The Observer

"Kwame Kwei-Armah’s new satire is all too timely"

"Kwame Kwei-Armah’s new play Beneatha’s Place, which he directs with panache, is inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 classic, A Raisin in the Sun."

"Zackary Momoh is hugely sympathetic as the Nigerian academic, Joseph Asagai, in the first half and as the American academic Wale Oguns in the second, but it is Cherrelle Skeete’s Beneatha who steals – and seals – the show with her head held high, her heart full and a tussle between powerlessness and power ongoing."

Kate Kellaway, The Observer
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The Evening Standard

"This bracingly stimulating play has found its moment"

"This work about race and the ownership of history could not feel more timely"

"Following the US Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action in universities, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s highly-charged play about race and the ownership of history could scarcely feel more timely. Or be more of a challenging workout for its audience’s presumptions and prejudices, whatever their skin colour."

"The first half is all narrative, the second all argument. This can feel weird and unbalanced but the two parts are finely wrought reflections of each other. The script teems with knotty ideas about the erasure of black history by colonialists, the way white people moved through guilt to a perception of their own victimhood, and the notion that younger black people are exhausted by talk of race. It’s often exciting – the first act plays like a political thriller – and very funny."

"This British premiere... features some superb acting. Not least from Skeete who plausibly ages 60 years through minor adjustments in her gait and her sublime hauteur. Newcomer Zackary Momoh is astonishingly, naturally watchable"

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Guardian

"The future of Black America and the shadows of colonialism"

"Kwame Kwei-Armah’s play takes a character from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun on a journey to Africa"

"If Hansberry’s play is about ownership – whether Black Americans have a stake in the American dream – then Kwei-Armah’s concerns legacy: the persistent effects of colonialism and how Black thinkers can shape the future."

"Skeete, always a class act, is needle-sharp as Beneatha. Everyone else plays dual roles: notable are Zackary Momoh as Joseph, Beneatha’s idealist husband, Jumoké Fashola’s scathing auntie and Sebastian Armesto’s grandstanding academic"

"Always engaging, the play never quite ignites. Kwei-Armah’s dialogue often lands squarely on the nose, and the fervid culture wars rhetoric remains thin. The playwright’s own production can feel staid, lining up academics across the stage."

David Jays, The Guardian
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The Times

"A culture-war skirmish with a tremendous heroine"

"... although Kwei-Armah gets fine performances from his cast, you wonder whether another director might have grasped better how this story’s deluge of ideas and information can get confusing."

"Line by line, these debates amid Debbie Duru’s beige-walled house set can be sharp and amusing. But unlike in Norris’s play, there is no tension: Kwei-Armah has just plonked together an articulate if sometimes confused group to argue among themselves. Still, Cherrelle Skeete is tremendous throughout as Beneatha, a compelling mix of the impassioned, the vulnerable and the resolute."

"... these conversation pieces divert and stimulate, but forever feel like a clutch of smart starting points for a story rather than the finished thing."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
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i News

"This Raisin in the Sun-inspired satire is frustrating"

"Kwame Kwei-Armah has done much better work than this"

"What is unwaveringly clear is the strength and clarity of Skeete’s performance, as a young woman in love but adrift in this new country, with a husband who, under duress, is revealed as having some unpleasantly unreconstructed views on gender relations."

"The play’s two sections aren’t joined as smoothly as they could be and even Beneatha’s definition starts to get squashed beneath an onslaught of culture wars-style arguments. I wanted to enjoy this more than I truthfully did."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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Daily Express

"Imperfect but intriguing"

"Though Kwame Kwei-Armah's direction of his own play is static, the satire challenges the white liberal hijacking of Black history with sharp humour."

"Kwei-Armah’s arguments are complex and nuanced, if largely non-dramatic, though it benefits from an even-handed and often comical approach from which no one emerges entirely blameless."

"The white liberal do-gooders - patronising missionaries in the first half, right-on academics in the second - are verbally tarred and feathered with trenchant humour, although Kwei-Armah’s direchulortion of his own play is frustratingly static."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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"Kwame Kwei-Armah’s quasi ‘Raisin in the Sun’ sequel is brimming with ideas, some good, some not so good"

"He has written some genuinely great plays, and you expect a playwright-artistic director to stage his own work. But the fact is that ‘Beneatha’s Place’ feels overshadowed, not only by ‘A Raisin in the Sun’, but also all the wildly inventive Black American writing about Black American identity that’s kicking around at the moment (see ‘A Strange Loop’ at the Barbican or ‘Tambo & Bones’ at TRSE). This is only the second play to receive a full run at the Young Vic this year, and it’s ultimately a pretty frustrating use of one of London’s great stages."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Stage

"Compelling, deeply felt performance from Cherrelle Skeete"

"Play drawing on the classic A Raisin in the Sun is politically potent and pertinent, but dramatically undercooked"

"... his play was presented in rep alongside Clybourne Park at Baltimore’s Center Stage in 2013, during Kwei-Armah’s tenure there as artistic director. Seen alone, Beneatha’s Place feels somewhat undercooked. Its resonance is substantially bolstered by its intertextuality and, without that context, its plotting is exposed as contrived. But its arguments, if sometimes baldly polemical, remain urgent and fecund, and Kwei-Armah’s own production is led by Cherrelle Skeete’s compelling and deeply felt performance as Beneatha."

"Too few of the talking points are as effectively dramatised. Yet Skeete’s contained passion and energy keep us engaged, with support from a strong ensemble. And the play is a pertinent reminder that progress is part of an ongoing continuum."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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The Telegraph

"The Young Vic needs a hit – but this hot-button play isn’t it"

"Kwame Kwei-Armah's A Raisin in the Sun spin-off takes on topical issues – but feels more like a debate than an organic drama"

"The acrimony-flecked confab holds attention, and has a clear topicality, incorporating the resentments of an aggrieved “straight white male” and accusations of unfair career promotion via affirmative action. But with the characters little more than mouthpieces, the aura of orchestrated debate rather than organic drama is inescapable. A halfway house, then, between hit and miss. And the Young Vic – in receipt of £1.7m Arts Council funding per annum but under-powered post-pandemic – badly needs a hit."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Financial Times

"Like Hansberry, Kwei-Armah keeps the action in a domestic setting, raising questions about home, belonging and power. "

"It’s a smart idea to use dramatic form to express the shift from lived experience to the contested examination of that experience: incident-packed narrative drama gives way to high-octane argument. It has drawbacks, however."

"But it’s carried along in Kwei-Armah’s production by terrific performances. Cherrelle Skeete is superb as Beneatha, a woman who has learned through bitter experience to play the long game, while Sebastian Armesto is toe-curlingly funny as her “whitesplaining” academic colleague."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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📷 Main photo: Beneatha's Place at The Young Vic. Photo by Johan Persson

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