One doesn’t have to look too far to see pastiches of blackness in popular culture. There can often be a rush to codify what it is to be black, a desire to narrow blackness into several easy to recognise stereotypes. In this environment, Ryan Calais Cameron’s For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy stands out for so many reasons. The story features six black young men attending group therapy and talking candidly about their experiences.
The cast is mesmeric, with every character fully realised. The way they interact, playing the different characters in the anecdotes that are shared allows them to demonstrate an entire spectrum of feeling. There are moments when they perform as if they are a mid-nineties R&B boy band and other times where they play the love interests, parents and rivals. That all of them can be at different times menacing, sensuous, joyous, distraught, whole and broken is a testament to their talents, Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu’s direction and Cameron’s masterful storytelling.
Kaine Lawrence plays Midnight, a brooding ‘bad boy’ with a need to ensure that no one messes with him. It is when he describes the relationship he had with his father that the audience is shown that he is the way he is because to be anything else would hinder his chances of survival. Nnabiko Ejimofor plays Jet, whose father worked hard to provide for his family and even harder to appear strong and stoic. Ejimofor’s ability to take the audience on an emotional journey is matched by the rest of the cast. Mark Akintimehin goes from singing a love song to a member of the audience to threatening a boy at a party. He is utterly believable as both. Emmanuel Akwafo and Darragh Hand both have a softness in their performance that is utterly disarming. It is Aruna Jalloh that perhaps lingers longest in the memory. The image of him gleefully bouncing on the trampoline shows a black child presented as exactly that: a child that takes joy in the small things.
The play is stained with a sensitivity that, outside of the confines of this performance space, are too often considered incongruous with black boys and men. The joy of this production is that Cameron’s script, Fynn-Aiduenu’s direction and the creative team tease out the totality of the human experience that these black men navigate. This show works for reasons both large and small. Perhaps most significant is that it doesn’t seek to tell a mythical universal ‘black’ story. Instead, it weaves together a series of individual stories of black boys. And there are as many of those stories as there are grains of sand on the beach. They are individual and precious, entertaining and harrowing, irreverent and deadly serious. What this play does is combine all of those elements into essential theatre.
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy runs at New Diorama Theatre until 6th November. More info here.