Having toured last year with Paines Plough Roundabout, Chinonyerem Odimba’s Black Love comes to London to open the Kiln Theatre’s 2022 season. Directed by the playwright, it’s clear from the opening number that this isn’t going to be the kind of musical we’re used to seeing, nor does it have any intention of being so.
Brother and sister Orion and Aurora (Roo) hold onto the memories of their parents, and rejoice in the heritage they share in the flat they’ve inherited. Roo (Nicholle Cherrie) is certainly more extraverted, the production opens with her singing a song that lists the various different names she calls her vagina, and is only interrupted when Orion points out she’s been shouting “pussy-hole” for the last ten minutes.
Despite aspiring to be an actor, Orion (Nathan Queeley-Dennis) is the more introverted of the pair and shows concern when Roo briefly goes missing at a music festival having “taken too much stuff.” It’s at this same music festival that Orion meets, and later starts a relationship with, Lois (Beth Elliott).
The introduction of the newcomer places a huge strain on the sibling’s tight bond. Lois disrespects Orion and Roo’s heritage and indulges in cultural appropriation, and Roo makes her feelings known in no uncertain terms. Roo believes that Lois is another white woman laying claim to land that doesn’t belong to her, and moves out of the flat, leaving Orion having to face difficult choices.
Despite the poetically laden script, there’s not a lot more in the way of plot, rather than advancing a narrative, Black Love speaks truth and lays bare the hurt and anger. The characters too are thinly drawn, Orion and Roo describe themselves as constellations, and while this allows them to speak authoritatively and from experience, it leaves the audience struggling to truly understand them.
The original compositions by Ben and Max Ringham have an easy going R&B feel to them, but the lyrics attached to them are confrontational, Roo in particular uses them to make statements about race, feminism and taking control of your destiny. There are also powerful statements, voiced by Ayo-Dele Edwards, in which the words of real people describe what Black Love means to them.
No ordinary musical for certain, but one which holds nothing back and says exactly what it wants to say. Black Love is at the Kiln Theatre until 23rd April 2022.