by Romy Foster
Frank Ocean fills the air, and audience members tap their feet and nod their heads in time. I jokingly ask my mum if she recognises the song as I recall how I wailed and begged about 10 years ago for her to download his album onto her iPod. Indulging in Frank Ocean’s music is like a Black right of passage. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t adore his range, and if you don’t – you’re lying.
Opening with a strong movement piece, the boys intertwine and somehow move both as one and individuals. It evokes isolation but the strength of your tribe pulls you back and keeps you grounded and supported.
The creative surprises don’t end at the opening. There are plenty of moments where the cast explore their physicality and singing abilities (with the support of excellent movement directors, musical directors and voice coaches Theophilus O. Bailey-Godson, Jade Hackett and John Pfumojena). They completely smash the stereotype of Black boys being hard, by showing their vulnerability and tenderness. It is utterly soul nourishing. Writer Ryan Calais Cameron’s words are poetry, true storytelling and honest to the core. It is delicate, compassionate, hard-hitting, sometimes trivial but completely necessary.
It is hard to pick a stand-out performance. The whole cast are incredibly captivating as they go from 5/6-year-olds playing kiss chase to adult men in a group therapy session revealing their traumas. It is heart-breaking to watch these men reverting to childlike tendencies and reliving the hardest parts of what it means to be a Black man. They share all the parts no one else normally sees. Every so often we are pulled out of these dark moments by hilarious cultural references, memes and dance breaks. The tears slowly turn to laughter and we comfort one another by singing and clicking along. There’s mad solidarity in the music and the sense of a universal experience. Whether throwbacks or modern classics, it is totally engaging for younger and older audiences alike. It’s a whole vibe.
This is a very important show, not just for Black boys who have considered suicide but everyone else who potentially (whilst they may be unaware of this) contributes to making young Black men feel this way daily. The safe space the company creates in the theatre stays open after the show for 15 minutes to spend it however you see fit, including reflection on our own role in this. I use it to take in the experience and return to the present, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this masterpiece for days. These men’s experiences live under my skin and will make me carry myself differently from now on. For the better.
CONTENT WARNING: Please be aware that there is mention of racism, suicide, violence and sexual assault. If you are struggling and need somebody to talk to, please call Samaritans on 116 123 at any
time, 24/7 for free. If you would like to learn more about mental health and the services available to
you, please visit http://www.mind.org.uk , http://www.blackmindsmatteruk.com or http://www.baatn.org.uk (The Black,
African and Asian Therapy Network).
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy runs through 30 April.
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