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For Black Boys… review: Powerful, poignant, poetic and provocative

The cast of For Black Boys dancing on stage (Image: )
The ensemble cast of For Black Boys (Image: Johan Persson)

Powerful, poignant and poetic, For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is as intriguing and provocative as its title. Written by Ryan Calais Cameron, it’s a sometimes funny, sometimes sad and always thought-provoking reflection on Black masculinity in all its forms.

The playwright was inspired by Ntozake Shange’s 1974 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf and wanted to explore the same themes from a male perspective. It premiered at the tiny New Diorama Theatre in 2021, sold out the bigger Royal Court a year later and last year made it to the West End at the 775-seater Apollo Theatre. Now playing for a limited season at the similar-sized Garrick, its return to a mainstream stage brings extra meaning to one character’s plea to let a Black boy “take up as much space as he needs”.

It’s as fantastic a piece of physical theatre as I’ve ever seen, with movement and choreography by Theophilus O. Bailey that really puts the cast through its paces. And what a cast they are – vibrant, energised, fearless, back-flipping and back-chatting, dancing with gleeful abandon to ‘No Diggity’, baring their abs and their souls.

Albert Magashi and Fela Lufadeju (Image: Johan Persson)
Albert Magashi and Fela Lufadeju (Image: Johan Persson)

The show requires them to flit between their main roles as young men (all named for different shades of blackness) and subsidiary characters, to recite monologues and verse, and to throw themselves around designer Anna Reid’s tiered set. Albert Magashi is especially amusing as the crotch-grabbing Sable (“I am lethal with the D”) but they’re all brilliant. Magashi, Tobi King Bakare (as Onyx), Shakeel Haakim (Pitch), Fela Lufadeju (Jet), Mohammed Mansaray (Obsidian) and Posi Morakinyo (Midnight) all dazzle with their comedy banter, physical dexterity and willingness to go to some very deep, disturbing places.

Cameron’s writing brilliantly balances humour and pathos. And he tackles so much across a show that runs for just two hours including a 20-minute interval. White saviours, self-hatred, thoughts of suicide, whitewashing, chat-up lines, losing your virginity, what being a man means across a broad spectrum of masculinity, and the concept of being “Black enough”. All of these subjects and more are delved into with insight, intelligence and, where appropriate, biting wit.

There’s a devastating depiction of knife crime, which had some people in the audience in tears when I saw the show. There’s also a beautifully moving dance between two gay men, which drew titters from a large school group – suggesting that there surely needs to be more education about LGBTQ issues in schools.

For Black Boys… goes a long way towards addressing why there’s still such a stigma around being Black and queer and why, in one character’s words, homosexuality is dismissed as “a white man’s perversion”. And it’s a remarkable work that everyone should see and learn from.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is at the Garrick Theatre, London, until 4 May. Get tickets here

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