Since premiering at the New Diorama Theatre and subsequently transferring to the Royal Court, For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy has been the talk of the London theatre scene. Now, it deservedly makes it’s way to the West End for a run at the Apollo Theatre.
Writer and director, Ryan Calais Cameron takes inspiration from Ntozake Shange’s For Coloured Girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. It’s a lengthy title for a substantial play, but Cameron strikes an incredible balance between the heavier themes and lighter, more playful moments.
The cast of six, each of whom are attributed character names which are never actually used on the stage, begin with a set of plastic chairs. The construct is that this is a group therapy session, but the chairs could just as easily be from a classroom, as that’s where we start, with the boys all six years old and upset that the girls are only running after the White boys in a game of kiss chase.
What follows is a series of vignettes where each of the boys share their experiences of growing up, and remaining as, black boys. As each of them take on a particular monologue, the others become supporting characters in the story. Interspersed throughout are epic dance breaks, songs, physical theatre and spoken word.
It’s a glorious assault on the senses; the production feeling much bigger than it’s simple set, which expands into two stories in the second act. While the boys share similar experiences, they do not always share the same viewpoint, often challenging each other and encouraging discussion and learning.
It is Pitch (Emmanuel Akwafo) who seems to facilitate these conversations the most, often in a very funny and engaging way, when he comes to tell his own story about struggling to find love it’s all the more heartbreaking. Sable (Darragh Hand) seems to have no such problem in attracting the ladies, the witty and self-depreciating monologue taking an unexpected turn towards its end.
I’m certainly in no position to judge if For Black Boys… is an accurate representation of growing up Black, but it certainly feels like it. Onyx (Mark Akintimehin) speaks passionately about his experiences, not only as a Black boy, but as a boy with mental health issues. That’s something that is threaded so well throughout the entire production, Midnight (Kaine Lawrence) talking about childhood trauma is just one of the more difficult stories to hear.
But this is also a play about friendship; men being there for each other, and the need to be able to open up. When Jet (Nnabiko Ejimofor) tells us it’s hard enough being Black without being Queer as well, it is the ‘alpha-male’ Onyx who stands by him, and when Pitch breaks down, it is Obsidian (Aruna Jalloh) who rushes to comfort him.
These moments of tenderness take you by surprise, for the switch from energetic dance and cheesy chat up lines to such serious topics would struggle to work without the empathy and support each of the boys show each other, while not being afraid to disagree on vital points.
This trailblazing ensemble cast do not just perform the play, they live and breathe it in a way that is rarely seen on stage. For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy brings to the West End an essential set of lived experiences that have been missing from our stages for far too long.
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy plays the Apollo Theatre for a strictly limited season until 7 May.