Review: For Black Boys @ Apollo Theatre
A year ago I was sat in the Royal Court Theatre watching excellence play out on a stage, the play was called ‘For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy’.
Written by Ryan Calais Cameron, the play is inspired by the late Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreopoem ’for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf’ and tackles similar themes to Shange’s works but from the perspective of Black boyhood.
The work has gone from strength to strength and throughout its periods of development has continued to be a community endeavour. From its roots steered by Nouveau Riche, New Diorama Theatre and Boundless Theatre, to its home at Royal Court last year and finally gaining a very rightful place on London’s West End with the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave.
‘For Black Boys..’ finds the audience immersed in a group therapy session with six Black Boys. Their monologues are sharp and impactful, they don’t seek to shy away from the things men may often never speak about or dismiss as just being something that happened to them when they were younger. They embody their younger selves, Pastors, crushes and Fathers - letting us into their worlds.
Whilst the cast has remained the same, new movement has been factored in and the cast has obviously taken great care to ensure that this is felt by attendees of the performance. The opening movement sequence, which is performed beautifully by all cast members, factors in strong lines, lifts and a level of physicality which has spent clear time in development. Thank you to Movement Director, Theophilus O Bailey aka ‘Godson’ for bringing new heights to these sequences.
Giving space to reflect on further differences between this year’s performance and the last year's the entire stage is utilised to full effect. From standing in the wings to give space to other performers throughout monologues, to the opening up of the second tier in the second half, perhaps this reflects the openness of the characters on stage?
It is clear that during the development process the cast bond has only been strengthened. Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh and Kaine Lawrence lean on each other constantly and there are parts within their performance which feel less like a performance and more like we’ve truly stumbled across an intimate therapy session between brothers. A touch on the shoulder, a hand held - darkness is lifted through light jest and well-timed banter. Nothing feels forced here and even in the raw nature of every monologue you can see how affirming feelings, experiences and combating darkness leaves every man a little lighter.
My only minuscule bug bear is that some of the language and pop culture references haven’t grown in the space between. It would have been interesting to see changes to the script which reflect 2023 trends and jokes. But nevertheless, the references used still lit up the audience with a fondness as did the use of song performances and dance routines.
An extension of this on the West End would be widely welcomed by the Black community and following the play has amassed. No matter how painful, everyone deserves to see the love poured out on stage from our Black Boys.