Passion Fruit

Dior Clarke and Stephanie Martin
The Pappy Show and New Diorama
New Diorama Theatre

Charlotte Gosling and Dior Clarke Credit: Cesare Di Giglio
Hayden Mampasi, Dior Clarke and Charlotte Gosling Credit: Cesare Di Giglio
Hayden Mampasi, Dior Clarke and Charlotte Gosling Credit: Cesare Di Giglio
Dior Clarke Credit: Cesare Di Giglio

This coming-of-age story of a gay young man of Jamaican heritage growing up on a North London council estate comes across as a bold personal statement that is brutally honest and delivered with explosive energy.

Writer Dior Clarke, playing lead character Romeo, announces from the start, “mum, I’m gay!” and goes on to tell the audience, “this isn’t a coming-out story. It’s a love story.” It is a love story but not with a Juliet or another Romeo but perhaps with himself, or at least with who he is.

He begins his semi-autobiographical tale when he is five years old and his mother is painting her nails—and his too. It is then that his father declares this will be the last time. Romeo is a boy, from now he’ll do boys’ things.

His dad wants him to play with the white children and to speak English properly, not like the other black kids, but his mother teaches Romeo and his brother Perry the mantra I am a strong black man; I am a strong vulnerable black man; I am a strong talented black man.

It is a rollercoaster rush through growing up. When a girl comes on to him, he doesn’t seem very keen.”Why not?” she asks and soon they are humping. Now Romeo declares, "I am a Big Man!” but when he meets new friend Alan, the attraction is much stronger. They dream of the future: Alan of becoming a footballer; while Romeo wants “better for all of us—I just don’t know how.”

Perry ends up in prison, Romeo submerged in a hedonistic life style, but that’s not the end of the story.

This is an in-yer-face show that upends conventional ideas of masculinity with raw honesty. Its young actors create instant characters with bold strokes but true-feeling centres and their performances bubble with humour. Charlotte Gosling plays Romeo’s mother, his girlfriend and a gang toughie. Hayden Mampasie plays his brother Perry, dad, “uncle” Germaine (mom’s new man), an auntie and, most delightfully, Romeo’s grandma. She’s may be a stereotypical Jamaican old lady but she is played with affection and you probably know someone just like her! “Grandad,” she says, “wasn’t a drug dealer. He was an entrepreneur.”

Designer Sandra Falase provides a setting with panels that indicate multiple locations and a pole dancing platform that provides Romeo with a fetishist high spot. Melina Namdar’s direction makes things segue smoothly into Kate Husband’s vigorous choreography to a pulsating soundtrack from Kayode Gomez. It is performed with an infectious abandon that got a vocal response from an excited audience. It is outrageous and funny at the same time.

Passion Fruit is a passionate cry from the heart, a bold statement that may shout from the rooftops but has a sensitive centre.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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