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

  • Theatre, Experimental
  • Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
For Black Boys…, Apollo Theatre, 2023
Photo: Ali Wright

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Ryan Calais Cameron’s Olivier-nominated sleeper smash is a gloriously un-West End hit

This review is from 2023. ‘For Black Boys…’ returns for 2024 with a new cast.

To say that ‘For Black Boys...’ is the kind of show you don't normally see on the West End is a massive understatement. It’s a sleeper hit that started out at tiny fringe powerhouse the New Diorama, then transferred to the Royal Court before making it to Theatreland, powered by a passionate fanbase rather than rave reviews. All of its cast and most of its creative team are Black men, talking about their experiences of growing up in a world that often sidelines and stereotypes them in a style that's non-linear, raw, spontaneous, and massively fun to watch.

Its creator Ryan Calais Cameron researched the play by running open-ended therapy-style sessions for Black men, ones that sprawled out over hours as they broached hard-to-talk-about subjects like mental health, masculinity, and love. Some of that same soul-baring earnestness finds its way into the finished play, which is structured around dream-like dialogues between the six cast members. ‘I'm already learning new ways to hate me’ says one boy, after getting ignored while playing kiss chase. This opening scene explores how school offers unwanted lessons first in other kids' prejudice, then, later, in the grinding historical traumas of slavery. The same rhythm patterns throughout the play, with big themes getting introduced and then broken down through the fragmented experiences of the cast.

But it never quite feels predictable, because Calais Cameron is such a master of the sharp tonal shift. ‘I know bare things about her, like her last name,’ says one reformed player in a scene about romance, to raucous audience laughter. But then the mood shifts from laddish to meltingly sweet, as he adds that he also knows her cat’s name, and pours out his unexpected love for this woman. Other moments have this brilliant balance of earnestness and knowing humour: ‘last night I was inside of you’, sing the cast, delivering a spine-tingling cover of a cringey Az Yet ballad with the adept seriousness of choir boys.

It's hard to single out one performer: Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh, and Kaine Lawrence – who received a collective best supporting actor Olivier nomination – all bring so much to their parts. Sometimes they feel like best mates, sometimes more like strangers, desperately baring their souls to each other in the dark.

Between scenes, Theophilus O Bailey’s movement direction creates a surreal psychological landscape where the men test and explore their relationships with each other. It's ably supported by Anna Reid’s set, which glows in slightly nightmarish primary hues, recalling the forced cheerfulness of spaces like schools or nightclubs.

Even with every aspect of the production firing on all cylinders, it does sometimes lose momentum. ‘For Black Boys…’ feels slightly shoehorned into a classic ‘play’ structure that doesn't necessarily suit its non-linear, vignette-style approach – the interval comes as a surprise, and the scenes after it slacken and lose their pace. By the end, though, all is forgotten. This is seriously powerful theatre, the kind that feels like an event, a statement, and a party all at once – and it's got something to say to pretty much everyone, while being unapologetically for and by the Black boys of its title.  

Alice Saville
Written by
Alice Saville


Garrick Theatre
Charing Cross Road
View Website
Rail/Tube: Charing Cross; Tube: Leicester Square/Embankment
£12-£35. Runs 2hr 15min

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