In the opening moments of the The Brothers Size a circle is chalked onto the floor of the Young Vic’s Maria studio. Percussive music plays and a song is struck up. More chalk, red this time, is then thrown down on the floor, where it stains the actors’ clothes and skin as they writhe to the music.It’s a striking, dramatic opening sequence that wakes you up and kicks the November cold out of you, setting you up for what’s to come.
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play takes elements of Yorouba mythology and drops them into a more familiar American setting, in this case a corner of Louisiana. The play concerns two brothers: Ogun and Oshoosi Size. The elder brother, Ogun, is responsible and hard-working man who runs a successful auto-repair business. His younger sibling on the other hand is nowhere near so solid. Oshoosi is the gullible type, enthusiastic but easily-swayed. He has been to prison and has only just been released, so Ogun sets him up with a job in his shop, something you get the feeling neither brother relishes.
However Oshoosi has not been at his new job long when his ex-cell mate, Elegba, shows up. Elegba is a shifty individual with a battered, old car to sell, though it’s clear from the start that he is no good, that his presence will trigger trouble.
Bijan Sheibani’s production is simply staged. It’s performed in-the-round with the audience seated around the four walls of the breeze-block walled studio. There is no set and no props. Just the performers, who speak their stage directions as they carry out the appropriate action: so when Ogun wakes from a dream he announces “Ogun wakes up.” Dreams too play a large part in the narrative, and when the characters are dreaming a red cross is shone through the chalk circle.
Describing it in this dry manner doesn’t really do justice to quite how well all these elements interact This is a play with its own distinctive rhythms and texture. It helps that the actors playing the brothers, Nyasha Hatendi and Obi Abili as Ogun and Oshooshi respectively have a superb rapport, they seem so in tune with each other, as siblings are apt to be, something most obviously felt in the sublime moment where they launch into a duet of Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness.
The production’s greatest success is the way it manages to blend its more stylised aspects with a compelling story. Its experimental elements don’t ever overshadow the narrative, and everything works in harmony together. McCraney’s exploration of the love these brothers feel for one another, of their reliance on one another, is incredibly powerful and moving, and the whole production leaves you feeling as if you’ve been dragged on a journey with these men. People jumped up to applaud at the end and it was well deserved.