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For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide…

Set in a group therapy session – but bouncing energetically off Anna Reid’s abstract technicolour geometric set – Ryan Calais Cameron’s For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy is more of a psychological revue than a primal scream. Standing on the shoulders of Ntozake Shange’s ground-breaking 1976 ‘choreopoem’ For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Cameron’s play launches in the West End for a limited run after selling out the Royal Court following original development at the New Diorama Theatre. The work’s now soaring popularity with theatregoers didn’t always match its originally guarded critical reception, but in its delicate – if occasionally workaday – exploration of the intersection between masculinity and Blackness (particularly a British experience) this production undoubtedly finds a visceral connection with its audience.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets too Heavy (Apollo Theatre) A, runa Jalloh. Mark Akintimehin.
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets too Heavy (Apollo Theatre) A, runa Jalloh. Mark Akintimehin.

Unlike Shange’s characters who are ladies wearing different rainbow colours, For Black Boys’ six-strong cast — together nominated for an Oliver as an ensemble – are each named for different expressions of blackness: Onyx (Mark Akintimehin), Pitch (Emmanuel Akwafo), Jet (Nnabiko Ejimofor), Sable (Darragh Hand), Obsidian (Aruna Jalloh), Midnight (Kaine Lawrence). Although the characters interact socially in the present in a naturalistic manner, each one is given a spotlight opportunity to dramatise his own story. Whether through monologue, sketch, song, dance or a combination of the elements, each man has a unique history to share.

The set-up of a mental health therapeutic environment is very subtly deployed (it’s in the programme but there’s little exposition in the script and the set doesn’t telegraph it) but the play’s driving force is that the daily humiliations, institutional bias and infuriating limitations of racism – together with strictures of an expected type of masculinity that leaves little space for vulnerability – can break your psyche. But instead of a jeremiad, Cameron shows us a healing room that is potent for both its self-expression and self-exposure and ultimately its sense of hope. These men may all have synonymous names but they do not have homogenous lives. They are Black but not a bloc. We see commonalities because they are all human beings but, despite many shared experiences – whether of stop-and-search police harassment (immediately recognisable to some of the characters as they burst into the Mitchell Brothers’ ‘Routine Check’ when Pitch naively asks, ‘what did you do?’) or school bullies or first loves – each man is an individual and asserts a personal tale that is shaped by expectations of race and gender but is not uniform. In demanding the time and space to be seen and heard – spirit undisguised and honest – the work finds an electricity.

With some stellar singing voices (Kaine Lawrence notably opens Act Two with soaring a cappella) and vividly athletic movement and tableaux (directed by Theophilus O. Bailey) and nuanced wit (Nnabiko Ejimofor displays particularly good timing), For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy is dramatic but won’t leave you shattered. It looks to uplift and asks, directly, to hang on in there. Although there are aspects of this play – perhaps because it’s built on the armature of Ntozake Shange’s seminal work – that didn’t wow me through structural or textual inventiveness, there is a pervading sense of courage in telling honest stories, vulnerably, that resonates.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s seminal work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf. For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy is located on the threshold of joyful fantasy and brutal reality: a world of music, movement, storytelling and verse – where six men clash and connect in a desperate bid for survival. Father figures and fashion tips. Lost loves and jollof rice. African empires and illicit sex. Good days and bad days. Six young Black men meet for group therapy, and let their hearts  and imaginations – run wild.

The Royal Court Theatre, Nouveau Riche and New Diorama Theatre production
FOR BLACK BOYS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE HUE GETS TOO HEAVY
Written and Directed by Ryan Calais Cameron

For Black Boys… is inspired by Ntozake Shange’s seminal work For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.

Originally commissioned by New Diorama Theatre, co-commissioned by Boundless Theatre.

Cast
Mark Akintimehin (Onyx)
Emmanuel Akwafo (Pitch)
Nnabiko Ejimofor (Jet)
Darragh Hand (Sable)
Aruna Jalloh (Obsidian)
Kaine Lawrence (Midnight)

LISTINGS
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy Tickets
Garrick Theatre, London
29 Feb 2024 – 4 May 2024
2 hours and 35 minutes, including interval.

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Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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