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Black Superhero at The Royal Court Theatre

A heady mix of Gayness; Blackness; and Superhero. Ness. And as in all good threesomes, there is inevitably a dominant strand. Here, regrettably, it’s the superhero that comes out on top, so to speak.

Dyllón Burnside and Danny Lee Wynter in Black Superhero. © Johan Persson.
Dyllón Burnside and Danny Lee Wynter in Black Superhero. © Johan Persson.

Like a cactus in a bath, superheroes, on stage, are as out of place as a dead shark lacking formaldehyde. It just doesn’t work. The play, without all the stage-superhero-trying-to-be-a-cinematic-superhero and simply failing would be no worse than it is with it. In fact, it might well be better.

Having said that we have a collection of tawdry characters with tawdry values having copious amounts of tawdry sex with absolutely no redeeming features at all for their inherent tawdriness. Which coupled with a ho-hum script makes for a less than inspiring evening despite the liberal sprinkling of humorous one-liners that range from the LOL, through the over-contrived and there-for-effect gag, to the downright crass.

Subtlety is there none and that is the major thing that this show is crying out for: subtlety coupled with a sense of purpose.

Without that we are left with a collection of gay caricatures, or black caricatures or a mix of gay and black caricatures and a plot that struggles to justify that nomenclature. Briefly – which is the only way to tell it – a very needy 39-year-old is in love with an actor who plays a superhero (is Needy in love with the man or the myth? – don’t ask) and the superhero shags anything that moves. So Needy inevitably gets disappointed.

At least Danny Lee Wynter, as needy man David, is watchable and manages to find some vague vestiges of subtlety in trying to construct a character out of the cardboard dialogue he has been bequeathed. But so Wynter should: he wrote the damn thing. Once you know that then we are into writer-takes-plum-role syndrome: which tends to be, in my experience, a recipe for self-indulgence. The other characters rant and rave and make sexually explicit jokes and pretend that everyone in the world thinks that superheroes are, well, superheroic. So we have flashing lights and smoke and flying and deep echoey voices to make us believe in something that is inevitable completely unbelievable. The superhero franchises – Marvel, DC etc – were born in comics and transfer naturally to film because Superman CAN fly there, Spiderman CAN climb up skyscrapers and Black Panther CAN surf on top of speeding cars rather than just dangle limply over the stage.

Director Daniel Evans should, perhaps, have thought about having filmed sequences for the superhero bits in the play. Instead, we have: here goes King (Dyllón Burnside) putting on his big cloak and mask so that we can all be in awe of Craw and shake and sweat in our seats. Which we clearly don’t.

The Royal Court is renowned for its inspiring canon of new work over the years – the likes of Kane, Ravenhill and Neilson have had plays staged here but one would have to say that this show is at the other end of the spectrum. We are instructed, rather pompously, that the title BLACK SUPERHERO must only be written in upper case. Perhaps then we should just take the initials and categorise the show as a heady dose of BS.

3 Star Review

Review by Peter Yates

No one. No dark knight in shining armour. Went through all my twenties thinking ‘don’t worry he’ll come.’ I’m almost forty now, and he still hasn’t, has he?

David is in love with King. But King is a superhero.

After an unexpected encounter David plunges himself into a world of sex, drugs and hero worship in the hope of being rescued, until fantasy and reality merge with devastating consequences.

The Company
Danny Lee Wynter – WRITER/CAST
Ben Allen – CAST
Dyllón Burnside – CAST
Dominic Holmes – CAST
Eloka Ivo – CAST
Ako Mitchell – CAST
Rochenda Sandall – CAST

Daniel Evans – DIRECTOR
Joanna Scotcher – DESIGNER
Kinnetia Isidore – COSTUME DESIGNER
Ryan Day – LIGHTING DESIGNER
Tingying Dong – SOUND DESIGNER
Gerrard Martin – MOVEMENT DIRECTOR
Yarit Dor – INTIMACY DIRECTOR
Matthew Iliffe – ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Zöe Thomas-Webb – ASSOCIATE COSTUME DESIGNER / COSTUME SUPERVISOR
Annette Waldie – STAGE MANAGER
Mary O’Hanlon – DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER
Tayla Hunter – ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

ROYAL COURT THEATRE
Sloane Square
London SW1W 8AS
Thu 16 Mar – Sat 29 Apr 2023
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

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