For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy
Ryan Calais Cameron
New Diorama Theatre
Ryan Calais Cameron has written a lively, sometimes funny, occasionally very moving show that gives us six black lads discussing their first loves, their relationships with fathers and of course their attempt to get a girl and be a hard, bad man. We hear about their uncertainties, their fears, their weaknesses.
The script is fast-moving with a lyrical slant, the imagined characters are realistic. The performance, impressively acted, has a rhythm that moves from light banter to serious debates and emotionally intense monologues that brought tears not only to the eyes of the cast but also to many of those in the audience.
Yet the show structurally can feel like a loosely fitting set of anecdotes connected by theme but never developing any narrative. There is no story and no opportunity to see distinctive characters or their development. There is simply a group of lads saying stuff we know they feel but convention tells them they should never say because, as the character Onyx (Mark Akintimehin) says, “I’m a soldier, one-man army, I was born alone and will die alone, I’m good. I’m a man, a badman, a strong black man.”
Except of course lads do talk about such stuff. Not in the regular lads-only gathering of pubs, or on route to the footie, but after a few drinks (as long as women aren't around) when they can cry on each other’s shoulders, not in any self-critical way but enough to let out the steam of self-pity amongst others who won't recall the moment of revelation.
And perhaps that's all Ryan wanted us to glimpse of these poor men-children and their occasional sentimental low self-esteem tales of lost fathers, lost lives dying on the streets (a bit of knife crime included), lost virginity which in one case was child abuse. Of course, these things should be talked about, but the show never really gets beyond what you might get from a more than usually coherent drunken night out with the lads.
Yes, it does skim lightly over the issues of racism, police brutality and the contradictions of so-called Black History time in schools, but so much is missing from the complexities of gender identity that we know often includes the same lads who happily roll around with each other in a drunken haze using the word gay as an all-purpose stick to beat their foe. There is also little said about their fraught relationships with women beyond the recognition that they can be fraught, which seems a bit of an omission given that every week male violence in this country leaves the bodies of women bruised, raped, dead.
This is an entertaining, thoughtful, lyrical show I am glad I saw. The more than two hours running time never lost my attention. Yes, these male victims of a stupid world need our sympathy, deserve our compassion. But so also do their victims.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna