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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Topdog/Underdog, Citizens Theatre review

Published in The Guardian


Citizens, Glasgow
3 out of 5

One brother is called Lincoln, the other Booth, products of an errant father with a mischievous sense of humour. Their names should give a clue to how Suzan-Lori Parks's two-hander turns out, not least because Lincoln has a job in an American amusement arcade for which he must dress up as the president on the day of his 1865 assassination, while unemployed younger brother Booth stays at home with a handgun for protection.

The scene is set for a metaphor. Not only was Abraham Lincoln instrumental in the abolition of slavery, but it is his face that stares out from every $5 bill. Two centuries after his birth, Lincoln and Booth – both black – are now slaves to the cash economy: one in an insecure job that requires him to dress as a white man and be shot at; the other harbouring dreams of mastering the three-card Monte trick and earning some easy money.

As president, Lincoln helped set them free; as a symbol of capitalism, he has ensnared them in poverty. The metaphor, however, remains latent in Topdog/Underdog, which, despite the allusions, never seems to stand for anything greater than its story of urban deprivation and fraternal rivalry.

Happily, in Leann O'Kasi's studio production, the tale is grippingly told. Played by Nicholas Pinnock with quiet authority, Lincoln has confidence where Tyronne Lewis's more ebullient Booth has only bluster. Over two hours, they build a vivid portrait of hope against the odds, even if the play fails to articulate the broader political vision it promises.

© Mark Fisher 2009

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