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For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy

by on 2 April 2023

New Expression

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy

by Ryan Calais Cameron

The Royal Court, Nouveau Riche and New Diorama at the Apollo Theatre, West End until 7th May

Review by Denis Valentine

For Black Boys… is a multi-layered show with many different elements to it.  Firstly as just a show and spectacle it is great fun to watch, with many funny moments and delivered in a way that at times turns the audience from observers into a one-bodied movement with its actors on stage.  It is also delivered by six outstanding performers who excel in several different crafts, whether that be acting, singing or dancing, to deliver something that can at times be considered highly humorous but then cuttingly dramatic, relevant and poignant.   

Its writer and director Ryan Calais Cameron researched and amalgamated very real stories from the people he spoke to and that it is something very apparent throughout, in that, although they are being told on stage, these are coming from a very real and lived place.  In spite of being told through the theatrical medium there is nothing embellished or added and just from at times knowing or acknowledging claps and sounds from the audience make it clear that many of these stories depicted are not unique, but very relatable and close to home to many in attendance.

Cameron also directs the play and both his direction and writing keep the audience constantly on their toes, as tonal shifts from moment to moment are aplenty and is reflective of one of the show’s main themes that, for any one of these boys, there is always a multi-layer of things going on, whether internally or externally.   

A quick and too simple summary of the show would be to say that it is a tale of six young black men, exploring and telling their stories of growing-up black.  The audience is shown the fear that these young men and many others in society might have, the idea of “not being black, enough to be black” is observed and the many facets and ways in which a person might view themselves or want to be viewed.  Is a real man defined by sexual prowess or can you really be a man and admit to being in ill health?

Thematically the show goes on quite the development journey from these young men.  Starting by depicting one at a very young age finding ‘new ways to hate myself’ as being the young black child left out of the game of Kiss Chase in the playground and how early memories become core in shaping one’s identity. 

To say the show does not feature a main character but genuinely six stars, who all work together as one to create a fluent and supportive show, is corroborated in the fact that Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh, and Kaine Lawrence were nominated together as one, for the best supporting actor Olivier award. 

Nicola T. Chang’s sound design and music is woven into the show well and, along with John Pfumojena’s musical direction, keeps the mood and message bouncing whenever the numbers are used. 

Anna Reid’s set is well crafted and supports its performers brilliantly by giving them enough space to perform, but enough structural space to create any needed backdrop for where their stories go next.  The fact that the lights are of such garish, neon colours is a subtle reinforcement of some of the bravado and false nature of the circumstances that the men seem to have to surround themselves in, in order to exist in their world.    

For much of the show everything is very engaging, although there is a slight lull in the second half, where the story telling gets into a bit of a relay pattern (your turn, then my turn) in terms of delivery and some of the enchantment does slightly dip.  It is well picked-up though in the last part where the six members come together to address the real mental health element in the room and appropriately offer hope rather resolution on the subject.    

As the topic of Suicide features in the title it is also curious to note that it is not actually directly mentioned or addressed, until roughly the final fifteen minutes before the end of the play.  For anyone hoping that this topic and the elements around it may have been more addressed and recognised given the title, there may be space for an element of disappointment, as it may feel more appended rather than being the rightfully fully explored topic after all that has gone on before it.   

For Black Boys… is a very entertaining show with many messages and great observations layered within it.  The six actors on stage all play their parts brilliantly and much kudos is due to the whole production team.  Although the play is set in the modern day it encapsulates a lot of what it is to be a young black man in the modern world for the past forty years and beyond.  The show is a real triumph for new expression through a mixture of old media. 

Denis Valentine, April 2023

Photography by Ali Wright

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
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