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‘Black Love’ review

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Black Love, Kiln Theatre, 2022
Photo by Camilla Greenwell
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Two Black siblings find their idyllic home life challenged when a white girl appears on the scene

Playwright and director Chinonyerem Odimba’s mini-musical ‘Black Love’ centres on Aurora, aka Roo (Nicholle Cherrie) and Orion (Nathan Queeley-Dennis), a Black British brother and sister who live together in a flat given to them by their father. 

Orion is a struggling actor, grappling with doubts over whether it’s worth the humiliation of a stream of excruciatingly stereotypical minor roles in the hope he’ll progress to proper work. Roo doesn’t appear to have a job, but with no rent to pay she has thrown herself into embodying their late mum’s legacy, which involves crystals, sex positivity, and a passionate belief in the importance of Black love, Black spaces, and Black culture. She also loves to get properly mashed, and it’s while trying to track down his extremely spannered sister at a festival that Orion meets Lois (Beth Elliott), a white girl.

The two of them fall for each other, to the immediate and uncompromising disgust of Roo, who believes Orion is betraying their parents’ love by getting into a relationship with a white woman.

In this instance, she’s proven entirely correct. Despite a lack of early red flags, Lois turns out to be astoundingly awful: increasingly obsessed with Orion’s race, clearly treating the whole relationship like a form of exotic cultural tourism. Nonetheless, she seems to be a sucking void of self-esteem, and it’s hard not to feel slightly sorry for her when brother and sister have a confrontation over the relationship and Orion launches into a speech about how Black women are just too demanding and he’s dating Lois for the sake of an easy life – something that Lois just meekly sits there and takes.

There are plenty of good things about the play. The euphoric ending doesn’t feel entirely earned, but it’s a giddy high point nonetheless. And Ben and Max Ringham’s lush, dreamy sound design is brilliantly distinctive, mixing soulful but endearingly scrappy songs and some pre-recorded vocals – with lyrics by Odimba – alongside unscripted (or faux-unscripted) recordings of Black people discussing the importance of Black love. These recordings almost seem to be the centre of the whole show: intimate, comforting, uncomplicated. The story seems oddly dissonant to that: Aurora idolises their parents’ romance, but Orion points out that she’s somewhat in denial about how turbulent it was, a point that’s never really returned to. 

The titular love is, of course, the platonic one between Roo and Orion, but given Roo goes ballistic at her brother the second he starts dating somebody else – ie before we’ve found out Lois is awful – and is ultimately only satisfied when they return to a status quo of just the two of them, separated from the outside world, you have to wonder if the relationship is entirely healthy. (You could argue that the flat is an allegory for love - I’m not sure appreciating that necessarily made the relationships feel less weird).

I think part of the problem is that ‘Black Love’ hasn’t scaled up from Paines Plough’s ultra bare-bones touring Roundabout theatre - another draft or two to let it breathe might have been handy: despite Richard Kent’s airy living room set, the production has a claustrophobic quality that probably isn’t intentional. Certainly a sense of who Aurora is outside of the context of her brother might have rounded the character out a bit.

Obviously the elephant in the room here is that I’m a white critic, and it’s perfectly reasonable to take the view that I might not appreciate a show so explicitly based on the Black experience. God knows I see red every time a British playwright attempts to write a Polish character. Nonetheless, I do feel I got what Odimba was aiming for, and there’s a lot to like about her show, but I just struggled to get on board with Roo – her possessive approach to her brother seemed like a strange kind of love to me.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

Details

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Price:
£15-£26. Runs 1hr 20min
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