FringeReview UK 2023
Sharp, shapely dialogue, sizzling humour, ambitious theatricality; a compelling story wrapped in baggy metaphors. There’s never a moment when the play proves less than engaging, sometimes riveting. A must-see debut play.
Written by Danny Lee Wynter and Directed by Daniel Evans, Designed by Joanna Scotcher, Costumer Designer Kinnetia Isidore, Lighting Designer Ryan Day, Sound Designer Tinying Dong, Movement Director Gerrard Martin, Intimacy Director Yarit Dor.
Assistant Director Matthew Iliffe, Associate Designers/Costume Designer Zoe Thomas-Webb, Voice & Dialect Coach Salvatore Sorce, US Casting Director Victor Vasquez CSA, Performer Flying Lee Stephenson for Freedom Flying, Stage Manager Annette Waldie, DSM Mary O’Hanlon, ASM Tayla Hunter. Set Built Miraculous Solutions
Royal Court Production: Casting Directors Amy Ball & Arthur Carrington, Stage Supervisor TJ Chappell-Meade, Production Manager Marius Renning, Show Crew Maddy Collins, Lead Producer Sarah Georgeson, Sound Supervisor David McSeveney, Lighting, Programmer Stephen Settle,Lighting Supervisor Deanna Towl
Till April 29th
Like Jasmine Naziha Jones’ Baghdaddy also at the Royal Court last November, you can always be certain an actor’s debut play will feature sharp, shapely dialogue, sizzling humour, ambitious theatricality, and – common to both of these at least – the actor themselves bestriding the main role.
Danny Lee Wynter’s BLACK SUPERHERO directed by Daniel Evans also resembles Jones’ play in a compelling story wrapped in baggy metaphors and wandering satires in search of a character, or here, drink, sex and affirmation. If Baghdaddy was underrated (especially its blistering climax), BLACK SUPERHERO’s sheer ebullience, stomping theatricality and picaresque narrative presages no such fate.
Again both plays enjoyed an exultant first night’s audience. Wynter’s play is immediately relatable. Exploring gay, occasionally straight and bisexual identity, bi-racial and Black heritage, it also interrogates marriage as between two protagonists, King and Steven. And a host of other issues around acting, agents and representation, London itself. As seven characters swirl round in partying, drug-taking, making plays for and against each other, with or without quoting their therapists, it’s both exhilarating and makes you wonder where they’ll leave off. Indulgent, yes. Boring, never.
What makes BLACK SUPERHERO compelling though is those interlocking characters (that’s apart from TV series avatars) as Wynter’s actor-activist David descends through an affair with TV star King (Dyllón Burnside) through a dour spectator-role as King takes him off to America and back.
In between as caped TV superhero Craw Burnside apparates with smoky epic lighting from Ryan Day on Joanna Scotcher’s thrust triangular stage with a similarly diamond/triangular opening, in black, again strip-lit by Day. It’s both hommage-kitsch to mega-cult TV and deeply impressive, with gulphs of darkness opening up. As are the sudden switch-offs to a spare room, or later on through a slough of descending sand, a couple of beaches. Tinying Dong’s sound is suitably punchy with effects and a succession of songs. It’s all magnificent and belongs to a bigger play; but then it’s what King’s Craw is all about.
Not that King gets away with Craw, except when a Twink (Dominic Holmes’ first small role) shuffles in for a selfie. For one, having told partner Steven (Ben Allen, carrying off a light parody of white liberalism) they were now in an open relationship (after a tryst with a 22-year-old), the reason for seducing slightly older, less successful David is not entirely clear. Partly because even more than his other friends, David’s painfully honest.
Burnside and Allen – as Interviewer – also come into their own as the intrusive privileged Allen character tries cornering Burnside’s assured King into declaring his sexuality (which loops back to the first scene’s opening). It might be standalone, structurally unnecessary, but it builds King and scores beautifully.
They’re a well-matched knowing friendship circle too, writhing around each other in Yarit Dor’s elegant intimacy direction, scoring points and relishing the satire. David’s sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall), part of the group and trying for a child, picks up signals before anyone else. Of King: ”he’s glowin’, I can tell.” Sparkling dialogue and excoriating honesty, particularly with David, makes Sandall’s a key performance. Raheem (Eloka Ivo) mightn’t be as famous as King, but in Ivo’s hands he’s suave, gleaming, and later on King needs him Stateside too.
It’s not till we hit the States in Act Two that David’s traits reach both crisis and coherence, the narrative tightens and a quite traditional play begins. It’s catalysed as older, big-hitter Kweku (Ako Mitchell) impacts on those who’ve flown over, and those who like factotum Jackson (Dominic Holmes cringingly good but knowing) are available to anyone.
David’s sheer awkwardness even attracts Kweku professionally, and more curiously personally too. Being older, Kweku can tease out the heart of David’s mystery, which inevitably reaches way back into childhood. But what will he do with it? Mitchell’s sleek with power, indulging just so far, to withdraw at will. Wynter’s character is full of activist virtue-signalling courting rejection.
Through all the thundering effects and parties Gerrard Martin’s movement evokes the gyrating masses and David’s lurch of aloneness. It’s only there that parallels with Ryan Calais Cameron’s For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy (about to enjoy a revival after the Royal Court last year) start telling.
Much of this fines down to siblings Syd and David, peeling back pain and dependency, history and a complicated future as Syd now contemplates motherhood. Unpacking the core relationship Wynter and Sandell compel. We end in wholly unexpected territory, different to anything before it. Though it further displaces the jet-set days, there’s never a moment when the play proves less than engaging, sometimes riveting. You know it should be further shaped and yes cut, but what – when you’ve seen it – could you lose? A few of the silences? A must-see debut play.