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For Black Boys (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy

Venue: New Diorama Theatre, 15 – 16 Triton Street, Regent’s Place, London NW1 3BF

Credits: By Ryan Calais Cameron. A Nouveau Riche production, co-commissioned by New Diorama Theatre and Boundless Theatre


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

5 stars


I’ll be honest. I had low expectations of this show which I feared would be “weird”, esoteric and too loud. I couldn’t have been more wrong. An accessible, passionate – sometimes shocking – piece it moved me to tears as well as making me laugh. And rarely have I seen such tight ensemble work – balletic, energetic (including trampoline in the second act) with choral speaking, monologues and song. Ryan Calais Cameron’s play presents a pretty original, powerful melange.

Six black men unravel their personal stories, experiences, views and ideas. Actors emerge from the group to recall incidents or express feelings while the rest provide a chorus or sometimes represent other characters in an understated Brechtian way.

We hear about a six year old traumatised in the playground because none the girls wants to be caught by a black boy in a game of kiss chase or “miss chase”, learning the hard way that the world doesn’t necessarily agree with his mother that he is black and beautiful.Then there’s the whole question of what you have to do to become  a man – and a dreadful account of beating and abuse within a family. How to do get a girl and how many have you had? Is black skin really sexy or do you prefer it seasoned with white? What is the point of learning black history if it’s all about oppression? How is that empowering? Well don’t forget that Africans once ruled Spain, Portugal and the southern France. This meaty play is nothing like as bitty as any attempt to describe it makes it sound because it’s beautifully directed (Tristan Finn-Aiduenu) with integral music (most of it not “loud”) and movement including some effective slow motion, all of which makes it feel very cohesive.

Inevitably we end with an example of the sort of pointless, tragic atrocity which happens on the streets of London almost every week. And, watching this play, we sit in silent horror and weep at the sheer futility.

In a show with such a talented, accomplished ensemble it is almost insidious to single anyone out. Nonetheless I must mention Emmanuel Akwafo who is both a hilarious comedian and achingly poignant when his character reveals his lack of confidence in trying to build a relationship with a girl. And Kaine Lawrence delights with every curl or the lip, twitch of musculature and word he speaks or sings.

I sat next to a black man who was there alone and had never been to the New Diorama before. I’m pretty sure he was the proud father of one of the cast members but he was coy about admitting that and wouldn’t tell me which one. In the interval he said: “You know, everything in this play really does reflect what happens in the black community. You won’t get it any truer than this.” Well I’m a white woman so this is outside my direct experience on at least two counts but I found it totally, powerfully, absorbingly convincing.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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