white card top

Estella Daniels as Charlotte, left, Nick Blakeley as Eric, Kate Copeland as Virginia, Matthew Pidgeon as Charles and CJ Coleman as Alex

The White Card

Birmingham Rep


The White Card, by Poet and Writer Claudia Rankine, is her first published play. In essence it is a one-act story with two scenes with the direct intent of discussing the issue of political art and white privilege.

It begins with a dinner party, hosted by Virginia and Charles. He is a rich property developer and art collector and their guest for the evening is Charlotte, a black artist who Charles wants to promote.

Virginia is a troubled wife all too ready to reduce any racist views to a more comfortable rhetoric. Her son Alex has added to her woes in the public support of the Black Lives Matter movement and yet she is further troubled with another son in prison for drugs abuse.

The evening progresses with an intelligent discussion of art and its purpose and slowly exposes the true nature of all present. Charles believes his patronage of collecting art that symbolizes black racism, is a true way of spreading the message whilst never really engaging in the horror of the acts the art depicts.

"What does it mean to portray black suffering as art?" is a question that is raised when Charles presents his new acquisition, a framed photograph of Michael Brown's autopsy report.

Charlotte herself is a photographer whose work has the same political motivation but even that comes into question through the fact she is now seeking the support of a rich white patron. The evening ends with tension and insults that neither parties could have seen coming. In the second scene, it is a year later and Charles visits Charlotte for the first time after the evening and another difficult meeting ends with Charlotte trying to expose Charles for the person he truly is.

Whilst Rankine’s work is a welcome and essential dialogue, the difficulty with much of the play is that it is littered with art references, their content and purpose. So if you don’t know what they are then you have no involvement in that part of the conversation. There are talks of books being read, again another way of excluding a listening audience. There is a moment in the second act when small prints on a board are discussed so then at least we now know what we are looking at.

charles and carlotte

Matthew Pidgeon as Charles and Estella Daniels a Charlotte

This is an important discussion but these visual references are lost on those who are unaware of them. Another production gripe is the constant underscore with music or sound FX throughout the entire play. They are never loud enough to overpower the actors, but distracting enough to take you off the detailed conversation on stage.

Great dialogue like this needs no support, just let it happen. Another strange segue is the scene turn over from the living room to Charlottes studio with a choreographed sequence set to music. Quite what the purpose of this was for was hard to understand.

Matthew Pidgeon played Charles with confidence, his character a man failing to fully understand the privilege his skin and wealth has afforded him. Virginia his wife played by Kate Copeland, typically supports her black heroes such as that of Serena Williams and Michelle Obama but would rather not face the true reality of real racial conflict. Additional Dinner guest Eric played by Nick Blakeley is also another white art dealer, who has intellectualised his own inner voice on racism in art. The son Alex was played by CJ Coleman and enthusiastic about his convictions.

Estella Daniels played Charlotte, the up and coming black artist whose photographs reconstruct images of racial violence whose purpose is challenged by the intent of her would be patrons.

Written sometime before the death of George Floyd the play was years ahead in depicting a movement, the need for change and the systemic blight of racism. Rankine’s take on this matter is from that of an intellectual art world of privilege and financial extremes. For me the production directed by Natalie Ibu is laden with a lot of unnecessary additional gimmicks and would have far more impact if they words were allowed to speak for themselves.

The White Card has true and powerfully valid points to make but never really covers the full story. The conclusion is a little anti climatic and so lets you walk away unmoved and wanting more of an impact from this important message that signals a pathway and the debate to real change. To 18-06-22.

Jeff Grant


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