Review: The White Card, at Soho Theatre

Claudia Rankine's play about race, racism and white privilege is a finely judged production

Thursday, 30th June — By Lucy Popescu

Christine Gomes in The White Card by Claudia Rankine

Christine Gomes in The White Card. Photo: Wasi Daniju

CLAUDIA Rankine’s provocative play about race, racism and white privilege is a joy from beginning to end and surely worthy of a West End transfer.

Charlotte (Christine Gomes), a successful black artist, is invited into the Manhattan home of Charles (Matthew Pidgeon) and Virginia (Kate Copeland). They are wealthy collectors of African American art, keen to acquire her latest photographic series.

Charles works in property and has made his money building private prisons in Iowa but prides himself on his liberal outlook.

She is introduced to the couple by white art dealer, Eric (Nick Blakeley), who, motivated by dollars, thinks they are a good match.

When Charles suggests he could invite Charlotte to join the board of one of his art foundations, Eric observes it would help the “diversity issue”.

Charles and Virginia believe they are doing good by supporting the work of black artists, but Charlotte is not easily bought and is worried by their preference for art that depicts black victims.

Over the course of an evening various prejudices are revealed. Virginia conflates the name of black artists and authors as well as the victims of racist murders. We learn that she dismissed her black maid for the night, so that Charlotte would feel comfortable. She ostentatiously insists on serving dinner herself, although this is a buffet – presumably prepared by her maid earlier.

Their son Alex (CJ Coleman) protests against Trump and campaigns for Black Lives Matter, but exposes his own privileged stance when he tells Charlotte of his anger that “your people” are being incarcerated. Charlotte responds by asking: “Why not just say ‘people’?”

Rankine underlines how whiteness is the default of American culture and takes some well-aimed shots at liberal, altruistic types who fail to recognise this. It’s equally pertinent for a British audience.

In the final act which takes place a year later, Charlotte turns her artistic gaze onto Charles and the colour of his skin. It makes him uncomfortable but in Natalie Ibu’s finely judged production this role reversal feels inevitable, and right.

Until July 16

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