We have always encouraged our Youth Theatre members to get out and about and experience theatre and performance from other theatre companies – we think watching the performing arts can be such an enriching and important experience and can enable folks to see and understand other lived experiences as depicted on stage. We also think it helps our older youth theatre members be better performers and theatre makers too (hence we do go-sees when we can), as they see other stylistic techniques, ways of storytelling, staging and theatre making that may inspire their developing artistic practice alongside supporting the cultivation of their own opinions around what they like and don’t like and empowering their voice as cultural consumers in their own right.
Last year, Ensemble Young Company member Amaaya attended and reviewed Black Love from Kiln Theatre, Paines Plough and Tiata Fahodzi, staged at Roundabout Harbottle Park in Byker, as part of her Silver Arts Award. We found it fascinating to read Amaaya’s impressions of this unique and thought-provoking musical that covered themes of familial love and conflict through the lens of two black siblings who are navigating their differing relationships to their cultural identity.
Read on for Amaaya’s review:
“The story centres around two siblings, Orion (played by Nathan Queeley Dennis) and Aurora (played by Leah St Luce) who live together in a small London flat surrounded by memories of their parents. The siblings present two starkly different characters; Aurora is bold and full of energy; she loves her culture and is openly proud of who she is. Her brother Orion, on the other hand, is more of a gentle, soft character who doesn’t understand his culture and at times struggles to accept it.
Black Love tracks their shared struggle refusing to believe what society tells them about themselves and their culture. I loved the combination of humour, arguing, playful teasing and love between the siblings throughout. The relationships between the siblings, as well as Orion’s new girlfriend and their deceased mother push the characters in different directions. Some of these conflicts are quite comedic. I also like how across the production they used different outfits to suggest the passing of time but also to show character and relational development and how it influences the visual expression of their culture.
All the senses are activated in this musical as different elements come together to show the family’s rich cultural identify. I really love the R&B Heritage music that is used as it is one of my favourite styles of music. Visual references to the family’s culture are present in their house as the table has different patterns and bright colours that are commonly seen in Nigerian fabrics. Incense is used which may be another indicator of the sibling’s cultural identity. The director and writer Chinonyerem Odimba is a Bristol based playwright who was born in Nigeria, so it is interesting to see how her personal experiences may have influenced these design choices.
An unusual element in Black Love is the way the voices of the different characters are used playfully to help deepen your understanding of them. You learn a lot about the character of the sibling’s mother, but she is never on stage as she had died before the story began and is instead represented as a disembodied voice. And another interesting technique I liked is as the characters are having discussions and conflicts amongst themselves, the actors often break the fourth wall to express their real feelings to the audience.
The stage design uses the theatre-in-the-round effectively as a turn table which spins to transition from one scene to the next. They use lively retro imagery to create a strong sense of place, with records shown to indicate where a scene takes place, in a club, bar or public area. A particularly powerful part of Black Love incorporates the stage design to create a solemn and striking scene. Screens around the room light up with a list of names of black people who have been killed by police. And at the same time the characters read through this list; I found it really moving whilst also educating the audience and humanising the issue of race-based violence in police forces.
Black Love taught me so much about why it is important to love your culture and not be afraid to show it to the world. As a mixed-race person, I don’t feel like I know as much as I should about my Asian culture but since watching Black Love, I feel prouder of my culture and want to learn more. This musical has taught me why it’s important to accept your own culture, even if it is not the dominant western culture that has been taught as the “norm” to so many of us from a young age. I also learnt about many of the black people who have sadly passed away due to the racism of the police, and I also gained some insight into different elements of Black British culture.”
Thank you Amaaya! Really insightful review.
Did you also see Black Love? Let us know what you thought in the comments or is there another theatre production that you want our youth theatre members to know about and may be come see!
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