For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy

Reviewer's rating

It has been a long time since I saw such a powerful and important play. Everything about this piece works in beautiful, engaging harmony. The music feeds the words, the words feed the action, the acting feeds the movement, the fluidty feeds the emotion, the emotion is central and both pointed and universal.

That universality is an incredible feat in a piece which is proudly speaking to, for, about and by young black men. I, a middle aged white woman, wasn’t sure what I would find in the piece that spoke to me. As I left in tears though I realised I had found so much. Those tears were for the stories of those who are not like me. But they were also for all the things we have in common. All too often, the sense in theatre of a universal experience is code for a white, comfortable narrative. Not here. Here the universality is the raw exposed humanity and its reaction to a world that all too often tries to tell it what it isn’t and what it can’t be.

For Black Boys is as much a treatise on masculinity as it is on race. And it looks hard and clearly on where the two intersect. The characters don’t just examine and try to explain (to themselves and each other as much as to the audience) what it means to be a man or to be black but what the clashing or crushing expectaions that come with being both. That come specifically from being a black man and the notions of masculity that sit within different generations and different communities within the black British spectrum.

For Black Boys… starts with a beautiful piece of movement that introduces us to six young black men – each bearing their own markers of black fashion and culture – not least in the vaiety of hairstyles and head coverings. Black hair and it’s treatment has been much poiliticised of late, but here the visual representation – from durag to twists – is a beautiful shortcut to one key message of the piece – that there is no more or less a universal black experience than there is a universal human one. That black boys are not a monolith and that our and their own stereotypical expectations are all too often constrictions they are as desperate to escape as they are to live up to them.

There is not a standout performance in this piece – only because all of them are truly excellent. Throughout the ensemble generously support each other and vigorously tell deliver their own performances. The energy is extraordinary given the length of the piece and while the Calais-Cameron beautiful augments his emotions with humour, he never allows that to be at the expense of knowing these beautiful, complicated, difficult, simple young men. Their dreams, fears, aspirations, needs and desires – from sex to love to career to class – are laid bare for us to lovingly embrace.

I came away from the theatre last night deep in thought as well as choking back tears that refused to stop flowing. This is a piece whose questions, answers and truths will stay with me for a very long time.