Chinonyerem Odimba’s Black Love musical play is a stimulating celebration of sibling love and the challenges of navigating life as a young Black Londoner.
It’s the deep belly laughs in the opening scenes of Black Love for us as Roo (played by Nicholle Cherrie) loudly proclaims the sacred sanctity of her lady parts in all of its many names. In the small Kiln Theatre auditorium there is nowhere to hide as she sensually sways and undulates, practicing her feminine power spoken word performance. In their small London flat, Orion, Roo’s brother (Nathan Queeley-Dennis) is also practicing. As an aspiring actor, he is learning his lines for his latest audition but struggling against having to succumb to playing the usual stereotypical demeaning roles.
The introduction to our two main protagonists throws the audience straight into the deep end of the story. We soon learn that Roo and Aurora both miss their mum, who has passed away and through their reminiscing we get a glimpse of a version of their parents’ Black Love.
Through their performances and musical numbers, we are privy to the warmth, love and at times, spiky relationship between Roo and Orion. Much like their names, Roo, whose full name is Aurora, and Orion are constellations, in that they are linked with an invisible connection as family. The charismatic leads exude a real chemistry as brother and sister with the sibling squabbling and quickly making up familiar territory. However, their strong bond is soon tested when Orion starts dating a young white woman, seemingly the one thing that can break their connection. Orion’s girlfriend, Lois, played by Beth Elliott, brings an authentic ‘Becky’ persona, whose tone-deaf attempts to ‘better’ her man, while on paper appears to be positive, is reminiscent of the white saviour narrative that many of us are familiar with.
The cast of three holds the audience for the full 90 minutes of the production. Subtlety is nowhere to be found in this play. Orion soulfully took on the tortuous tightrope of what it means to be a Black man in white spaces. To be fair, 90 minutes is quite a short time to address all of the problematic nuances of interracial dating and the perception of the Black man in society, but they tried.
With the spelling out of the issues and biases experienced by Black women and men, this play was speaking directly to the white audience members, and gratifyingly there were many. It was interesting to see the reactions to each truth bomb as told by our protagonists. As mentioned earlier, this is not a subtle play and so there were some moments when there was visible squirming, but I guess that was one of the objectives, to get people thinking about the part they play in supporting some of these narratives.
Beth did an excellent job of playing the role of delicate white flower who life just happens to without recognising the part she also plays in propagating these stereotypes.
This play’s take on Black love; sibling love between a brother and sister, the echoes of their parents’ love as told through the loving memories of their children, was soulful, energetic and will certainly make you ruminate about the people in your life that you love.
The play’s run at Kiln Theatre in north London has already drawn praise and follows a five-star, critically acclaimed national tour, so don’t miss this opportunity to catch it.
Black Love, presented by Paines Plough and tiata fahodzi, is showing at Kiln Theatre until 23 April 2022.