Ayo and Flo are in love. They are two women who flirt and kiss and cry in front of us. They are the same and they are different. Ayo is black and Flo is white.
Black Girl/White Girl and Pembroke Players’ show, Scene, combines romantic comedy with deconstruction of theatrical merit and truth. Its writers Lola Olufemi and Martha Krish unpick their own bias and creative process, midway through their semi-autobiographical narrative about how they fell in love.
The performance starts with a speech by Ayo (Saskia Ross). It is deeply rooted in her experience as a black woman, and as a black woman in love with a white woman. It is poetic, crafted with a subtlety and wit that is never accusatory, but investigatory. Then, she’s interrupted. Her girlfriend and director Flo (Laura Cameron) asks her to tweak her performance slightly, saying it feels wrong.
As a white woman, I already feel like it isn’t my place to comment on this. I can relate to only half the show. Cameron’s character is naive, white, learning. This is as much about white complicity and racial bias as it is about being queer.
The audience is shown Flo and her flaws, but we’re also shown why Ayo loves her. It’s a constant grapple between identity and communication and love. Flo wants to take out the bits about race, saying that it sounds like we’re going on about it too much, and that people will walk out. Ayo, on the other hand, attests that her experience of living and being is never separate from her identity as a black woman. This returns to an investigation of how white privilege is so rarely directly addressed on our stages, particularly within a frame of queer stories.
Ayo says that people say she’s the type of black girl to marry a white guy. Then she ends up with a white girl. Being a gay woman so often means taking comfort in someone who is like you, who shares your experiences, your battles. When that is complicated by race, the dynamics are different. It’s not about comfort anymore, and the (mostly white) audience are given a fraction of the frustration that pervades the relationship. This isn’t to say interracial relationships are bad. They are fantastic and wonderful, but they don’t come without their share of problems.
Olufemi and Krish’s script is unashamedly intellectual. It provides a frame of a rehearsal room, and sitting within it; the play itself. The writing never feels self-important, instead it is genuinely funny and intimidatingly clever. The audience aren’t allowed to know what is real and what is fiction. In a show which is so personal and revealing, Olufemi and Krish keep their cards close to their chest. We are allowed some, but certainly not all.
Scene examines the creating and writing of the play itself as well as the queer, interracial relationship of the writers. In this metatheatrical unpicking of how we talk about race, gender, queerness, and theatre Olufemi and Krish create a work that shines with intelligence and humour, allowing us a glimpse into their love.
Scene is on at Paradise at St Augustines at the Edinburgh Fringe until 27th August. More info here.