Danny Lee Wynter
Royal Court Theatre
Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs)
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Olivier-nominated actor Danny Lee Wynter’s debut play as a dramatist centres on mixed-race gay black-activist actor David (played by Wynter) and some of his closest friends, also gay black actors.
Most important is King (Dyllón Burnside, best known for his role in TV series Pose), for whom David has long carried a torch. King has found stardom as Craw, a Marvel-type hero in a major film franchise. With two major film roles, their friend Raheem is also doing much better professionally than David, who feels frustrated both professionally and in his romantic life (or the lack of it). He seems to always come second best. When he started in theatre, he dreamt of playing Hamlet; he has never wanted to play Horatio but now he is down to audition for that role.
King has been in a longterm relationship with white travel writer Steven (Ben Allen) but now declares that their marriage is an open one; he is seeing other men. As David faces forty, is he about to have his dreams answered?
David had a difficult childhood with an abusive father and seems always to have relied on the support of his sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall). He still lives wither her and her partner, though when she gets pregnant, he is asked to move out. With no acting jobs, he’s been surviving working for Syd’s children’s party company dressed as Peppa Pig. Always active for gay rights and black rights, he must now deal his own life as he slips into a more hedonistic lifestyle with King.
This is a believable picture of a specific group that touchingly traces David’s emotional needs and frustrations. It discusses gay sex graphically and encounters with King see reality become superhero fantasy with strikingly effective theatricality. On the one hand, this is an engaging personal story but at the same time, it is a critique of gay lifestyle and closet queens, and keeps raising issues about racism, sexism and show business casting, stereotyping and tokenism.
There is an awful lot packed into its two hours (plus interval), too much perhaps, but Daniel Evans's direction and strong performances throughout, and specially intense from Wynter and Burnside, give it a gripping immediacy. Much is also very funny at the same time as being very serious.
Joanna Scotcher’s setting with its neon framing and multiple shadows and Ryan Day’s chiaroscuro lighting allow instant advance from scene to scene and rapid transitions into Crawtopian fantasy (though more light on actor’s faces would be a good thing).
Danny Lee Wynter has written a first play that comes from the heart and makes you eager to see his next one. Catch this one while you can.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton