It was great to catch ‘The Brothers Size’ at The Young Vic tonight before it finishes on Wednesday. The play tells the story of a young man, Oshoosi (Jonathan Ajayi), in the Deep South and how he comes to terms with life after spending time in prison (or, ‘The Pen’). He is reunited with his older brother, Ogun (Sope Dirisu), who acted as his guardian following the death of their mother. The play interrogated the long lasting effects of incarceration on both brothers. The presence of Oshoosi’s friend Elegba (Anthony Welsh), who he met in prison, and his hedonistic temptations conveyed the difficulties of fully moving on from a troubled past. The company have taken the play to Wandsworth Prison, where the audience gave it a standing ovation which, I believe, is a testament to the realistic, truthful emotions it depicted.
The two brothers contrasted each other perfectly; Ogun was strong and commanding, whilst Oshoosi, the younger brother, was vulnerable yet playful. The relationship between the pair had such a sense of honesty; their interactions segued seamlessly from being full of masculine bravado to touching and affectionate. When, towards the end of the play, they performed ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ it was clear to see the sheer strength of their fraternal bond through the ease and exuberance of their performance. Elegba’s haunting, poetic recounting of hearing Oshoosi call out for his brother soon after he had arrived in prison was fused with deep pathos. It was telling that an outsider was able to capture the intense emotion of the brothers’ relationship. Also, Ogun’s moment of reflection on the sense of responsibility he felt for his brother following the death of their mother was just as poignant. The metatheatricality of the piece, with the cast narrating their stage directions, was humorous but also added to the simplicity of the play. The three actors, along with the excellent music, did all of the work, as they masterfully created the world of the play through their powerful physicality and intricate movements.
The theatre in the round setting was accentuated by the white chalk circumference drawn at the start of the play. This visible boundary heightened the intensity of the fraught exchanges within it. The red chalk that was thrown up at the start of the play slowly dispersed to the edge of the white chalk as the plot unravelled. It was utilised magnificently at the end as the lighting revealed the stage to be a moon, which served as a witness to the painful story that Oshoosi had just told Ogun. The strength of this moon reflected Ogun’s conscience and duly heightened the weight of the moral decision placed on the older brother. The following morning he was resolute in what needed to be done to save Oshoosi.
The length of the play, a concise 80 minutes, was perfect, as the relentless pace made the intensity of the interactions all the more overt. As with most of my recent blog posts, I have unfortunately seen The Brothers Size at the end of its run. If you can get a return for the next couple of days then I would definitely recommend!