The White Card by multi-award winning writer Claudia Rankine is currently premiering in the UK at Northern Stage, Newcastle, before moving onto Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London. The White Card was first staged in Boston in 2018 and felt just as relevant a watch in Newcastle this evening as I am sure it did in the US. Director Natalie Ibu, who is also Artistic Director and Joint Chief Executive of Northern Stage, poses Rankine’s question flawlessly to the audience with the more-than-able assistance of the cast; will society ever progress whilst whiteness continues to be invisible?
A privileged art collector Charles played by Matthew Pidgeon and his wife Virginia (Kate Copeland), invite a successful and talented black artist (Estella Daniels) to dinner with intentions of adding her pieces to their collection. Their collection they believe, based largely on the documentation in a variety of mediums of “black trauma as art” (to borrow Ibu’s eloquent words), demonstrates their support for the struggles of others. The party grows tense as a passionate debate unfolds and differing viewpoints are heard from the privileged couple, their son Alex (CJ Coleman) and Eric (Nick Blakely), a white friend and fellow art collector. The dinner party ends with Charlotte, the Artist, questioning her own artwork and reasons for producing it.
The second part of the play skips forward a year and the audience finds themselves looking in on a much less oppressive scenario; Charlotte working in her light, bright studio. Charles pays Charlotte a visit to tell her he’s not a fan of her new work and finds out a truth that he finds hard to swallow. I could tell you about it. I would love to give you a spoiler but I can’t deliver this with the impact that the whole team intended and demonstrated this evening. This is something that needs to be witnessed.
The cast were believable in their delivery of the messages they were constructed to convey. Daniels and Coleman stood out for me but everyone was brilliant in the roles that they had been cast. Each Actor played their parts in such a way that I believed their words and conviction. The movement and behaviours were nailed, as small nuances in movement of the characters increased the air of tension within the room.
This was a challenging watch. So challenging that I found myself shifting in my seat. Synchronised shifting with the audience members on either side of me as I recognised words and views I may have heard expressed by a family member, friend or even myself. It’s hard to admit to yourself that what you thought was liberal all-embracing thinking might actually need a bit of an adjustment. That you’re not as mindful as you thought you were or the language you use could be misinterpreted.
I left the theatre with a new understanding of what “whiteness” is though. The White Card can take credit for this. I’m privileged, I’m white and I’m female. There are things in my life I will never have to be concerned about. But I am concerned about progress. Go see this play and take part in the discussion. It is a must.
Northern Stage should be commended for putting on this co-op production with the Birmingham Rep, Leeds Playhouse and Soho Theatre. It is true that at Northern Stage they “go beyond the ordinary to bring people together” and always provide the opportunity and space “to think and rethink”. It’s a special place.
The White Card runs until 14th May