This is Black Festival, The Bunker

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by Romy Foster

This is Black is a festival of new writing by black writers curated by director/writer/creative producer Steven Kavuma. It feels like so much more than just any other festival. The event consists of two double bills that alternate performances and are followed by a DJ set every Friday and Saturday night.

As a black creative, this is such a safe, fun and exciting environment to be in. Everyone talks to each other during intervals and after the shows, including the actors and creative teams. I can’t remember the last time I was able to extend my theatrical experience after the show what with theatre staff who wanted to close for the night.

The first two shows are Blue Beneath My Skin and All The Shit I Can’t Say To My Dad (rehearsed reading). Both of these are honest and promising pieces tackling themes such as mixed raced identity/ethnicity/fitting in, and the somewhat challenging relationships black boys have with their fathers. At times, the stakes feel low in Blue Beneath My Skin even though the content of the story is exciting. With more time and development, the better it will land. And for a new one-woman show, Macadie Amoroso pretty much smashes it.

Although All The Shit I Can’t Say To My Dad is a rehearsed reading, it’s clear how much work had been put into it. If Zachary Momoh hadn’t had the script in his hand, it wouldn’t have been noticeable that it wasn’t finished yet. It was hard not to be moved listening to writer Abraham Adeyemi dedicate the performance to a close friend who recently suffered his father’s bereavement, and who had a similar relationship with his dad. That, followed by a tearful embrace between Abraham and a family member on opening night, moved many audience members to tears. l mull over how common it is for young black males to have this sort of relationship with a parent. Adeyemi says in a previous interview that when they were auditioning, about 90% of the actors could relate to it and he addressed how sad he thought that was.

The second double bill features Pynapple and Teleportation. Pynapple is funny, believable and tackles a lot of different themes like racial identity, sexuality, femininity and gentrification in this 55-minute piece set in a London hair salon. Following the success of Barber Shop Chronicles, it’s nice to see a version of the things some young girls get up to and share with each other in the safe space of a salon. Raye (Elise Palmer) steals most of the laughs with silly facial expressions and witty reactions, but what is most interesting is the group dynamic made up of different personalities, and exploring what happens when they clash – as all friendship groups do.

Closing bill two, Steven Kavuma directs Ronke Adékoluejo’s debut play Teleportation. Everyone should see this coming in on a clean slate, so I’m giving little away. Dealing with complicated matters such as the “go back to where you came from” racism and xenophobia that is so deep-rooted in British culture, Gary (Lee Ravitz), a war veteran and Anuyin (Antonia Layiwola) strike up an unlikely friendship when she is hired to be his carer. Anuyin claims they are Twin Flames (a soul split in half and placed in two separate physical bodies when placed back on Earth) and through this, the story explores how two strangers can be connected. The level of professionalism in this show outshines the rest of the festival and is deservedly nominated for an Offie.

This Is Black festival runs through 25 August in London.

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