Fola’s Top Shows of 2022

Fola’s Top Shows of 2022

This year, I’ve seen some unforgettable theatre. Any reviews I’ve written will be linked below.

Red Pitch, Bush Theatre 

Red Pitch Photo (Credit: Craig Fuller)

Associate Artistic Director Daniel Bailey and playwright Tyrell Williams created a one-of-a-kind coming-of-age story at the Bush Theatre. Luring us in with the football antics and life-long friendship between three South London boys (which was an absolute pleasure to be seen acted by Francis Lovehall, Kedar Williams-Stirling, and Emeka Sessay), Red Pitch gave us crystalline commentary on gentrification and the displacement of London’s locals. All in all, it was a great year for the Bush Theatre and their sports-related socially conscious programming – which leads me onto… 

Fair Play, Bush Theatre

Fair Play Production Photo (Credit: Ali Wright)

My thoughts here. Sadly, my blog post didn’t mention Monique’s Tonko’s direction here. That, with Ella Road’s ability to manipulate a globally covered sports scandal into an individual experience that resonates for everyone in the audience, and Naomi Dawson’s immersive set design made this one of the standout plays I saw this year. I came away from it challenging my own biases around competitive sport, although I didn’t realise I had any. 

Hungry, Soho Theatre

Paines Plough's HUNGRY by Chris Bush with Eleanor Sutton & Melissa Lowe (c) The Other Richard
Hungry Production Photo (Credit: The Other Richard)

My review here. It seems like the theatre that’s stayed with me the most has been the ones that can distil a structural/systemic issue into a microcosm that’s so keenly felt by the characters, that you can’t help but keenly feel it yourself. Chris Bush’s Hungry did this in spades. So much so, I can’t wait to see her next production, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, coming to the National Theatre from 9 February to 25 March 2023. 

For Black Boys Who Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy, Royal Court Theatre 

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy Production Photos (Credit: Ali Wright)

Originally playing at the New Diorama, this play transferred to the Royal Court Theatre for a limited 5-week run. What a brilliant decision that was – so many SW residents for whom the Royal Court Theatre is their local were able to witness this joyful, colourful fantasia about Black boys, in therapy, sharing their experiences of living – and of not wanting to live anymore. Ryan Calais Cameron and his resilient cast of six gave us characters to care and feel pain for, amidst the exuberance, music, and diasporic jokes.   

The Burnt City, Punchdrunk 

The Burnt City Production Photo (Credit: Julian Abrams)

An experience, not a play, this is one of the few genuinely innovative adaptations of ancient classical literature to come to London this year. The Burnt City was a large, powerful, haunting production in a warehouse in Woolwich. It’s easy to want to spend the whole day in there, getting lost in the silent but visceral physical performances (devised by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle) as you follow the performers act out the siege of Troy. As it’s on a loop, you get to try out many different vantage points, see the story from many different characters’ perspectives, and lose yourself completely to the creative team’s designs (Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan, Beatrice Minns, Stephen Dobbie, F9, and Ben Donoghue). This is the only show on my list still playing and I’d highly recommend you make your way to One Cartridge Place (they even have a NYE remixed version of the experience!)

Honourable Mentions

Here are a few plays that I had the privilege of seeing in 2022 although technically they’re reruns. 

Jerusalem, Apollo Theatre

Jerusalem Production Photo (Credit: Simon Annand)

Mark Rylance returning to the stage as Johnny “Rooster” Byron and Mackenzie Crook as sidekick Ginger alone makes this a show I can’t not put on my list. Its original run was at the Royal Court Theatre in 2009, so I’m grateful I was able to see it again in all its Bacchic, carnivalesque glory. 

Queens of Sheba, Soho Theatre

Queens of Sheba Production Photo (Credit: Ali Wright)

This production, similar in many ways to For Black Boys (which makes sense as Ryan Calais Cameron worked on this as well), was first mounted in 2018 but was brought back to Soho Theatre in early 2022. And thank goodness it was – I will never forget the scene where the Queens impersonate Black roadmen in the club. That scene alone made me laugh more than I ever have during a play. It was lyrical, whimsical and touching, never failing to speak on issues of being a Black woman and navigating misogynoir perceptively. 


The P Word

The P Word

The P Word Production Photo (Credit: Craig Fuller)

When Black people and non-Black people alike speak about the ‘Black community’, I feel conflicted. Although there are shared experiences brought about by being the same skin colour, and although I can express solidarity with Black people across the world, there is no one Black community, but rather communities. To homogenise Black people into one group, to deny that there are differences between how even two Black people living in the same country, the same city, or the same road, might understand their Blackness, is reductive and flattens intersecting issues of class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality in favour of ‘easy’ racial categorisation.

With The P Word, Waleed Akhtar turns the tender romance between two gay Pakistani men living in London into a timely conversation about race, politics, and (internalised) prejudices. Akhtar, who plays Billy (a purposeful Anglicisation of his full name, Bilal), also explores issues of self-hatred and fatphobia with his character. Bilal is a London boy and gym buff, but his workouts are always punishments for being unlovable, a way to control something in his life when he cannot control the affections of others. Akhtar’s portrayal of this inner turmoil isn’t always the most convincing, especially when compared to Esh Alladi, who with incredible sensitivity and earnestness, plays Zafar, a Pakistani asylum seeker who inspires Billy to go on a journey of self-reflection and growth. Alladi’s wide-eyed naivete makes for a tour-de-force of a performance here. 

Zafar’s story – a gay man who’s fled Pakistani after his father killed his partner and is now surviving in Hounslow, subject to the malicious and draconian rules of the Home Office forces – makes Bilal’s story unfortunately weak in comparison. This is especially clear in the beginning when the two men’s monologues about their backstories intertwine – Zafar’s devastatingly sombre, Bilal’s (where he speaks about his Grindr hook-ups) played for laughs. 

When both storylines intertwine, during London’s annual Pride parade, director Anthony Simpson-Pike offers us a beautifully-staged story about two very different experiences of being Pakistani and gay, and how while the two characters overcome these differences here, most asylum seekers aren’t afforded such chances to have a Bollywood-style love story and ending. Simpson-Pike and sound designer Xana work the voiceovers of various off-stage characters into the narrative seamlessly – in Zafar’s story, the oppressive voices of policemen, Home Office employees, and others boom through the auditorium, which Alladi plays off with affecting realism (he cowers, left bewildered by British and Pakistani homophobia and cruelty). In comparison, Bilal is given the luxury of controlling his narrative, acting out his off-stage characters (including Fat Jason, often the butt of his jokes). 

It is only until the end when the character of Bilal is really put in Zafar’s shoes, a scene in which Akhtar truly shines and which is a perfect dramatisation of Zafar’s line,  ‘I’m not in your Britain. I’m in another Britain’. Despite the similarity between their two worlds, these two characters will never really understand what it’s like to be each other – Bilal will never understand how it must feel to walk the streets of London, unsure whether that will be the day that you’re deported at any moment to Pakistan or even Rwanda. 

The play may tend to over-explain, and its set leaves a lot to be desired for a play with two fashion-obsessed characters, but the lack of subtext isn’t a problem when this play is offering the kind of education for British audiences that is sorely needed. But this is simultaneously a show for Pakistanis, who’ll have first-hand knowledge of how harmful the titular slur is as well as the cultural references peppered throughout. On a larger scale, The P Word connects to the discourse around the strata that exists within all communities of colour, which allows Priiti Patels, Kemi Badenochs, Rishi Sunaks of the world to enact insidious policies on members of their own race because they choose not to put themselves in their shoes. 


Essentially Black

Essentially Black

Essentially Black Production Photo (Credit: Sèverine Howell-Meri)

Essentially Black follows two History undergrads at the University of Oxford: a mixed-race student called Jess and a Black student called Lydia. Both of them are part of the student body-led campaign to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes overlooking Oriel College. Both of them, in different ways, are confronted with Oxford’s racist infrastructure. Jess has to reconcile the fact that she is the public face of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign with the fact that she is half white and has a white football-playing boyfriend, whose cancel-culture-hating friends alienate her. Meanwhile Lydia, a dark-skinned Londoner, struggles with hypervisibility and microaggressions, such as a white porter demanding identification from Lydia (and none of the white students) that she goes to the university. 

Although the characters are fictional, the Rhodes Must Fall campaign did actually take place throughout 2016. Despite the national coverage over this campaign, writer Naomi Denny relegates the actual goings-on of these historical events to the background – she also chooses to relax the portrayal of the University of Oxford. Losing the verisimilitude of the two girls’ university experience means losing vital plot-points which could have added dimensions to their stories and relationship. For example, neither Lydia nor Jess talk about the Oxford Afro-Caribbean Society which is a second family for most Black people who attend all-white, oppressive spaces like Oxbridge. 

The provocative title suggests this will be a play which interrogates what it means to be Black. What does it mean to speak on behalf of a Black country from which you don’t originate  based only because you share the same skin colour and not the same history or inherited trauma? What is the biological, social, and cultural essence of Blackness? Colorism is no undocumented thing, and at a university like Oxford, your proximity to whiteness is cultural capital. This is a cultural phenomenon which could have been explored through looking at Jess’s privilege through the point of view of Lydia. Instead, the play felt more invested in Jess’s journey, relationships, and interiority, which meant Lydia became sidelined. She spends half of the play in absentia, having decided to go back to London for the rest of the term. We don’t get to learn much of her experience of racism except for one outburst before her suspension. Even the scene that we see with the porter, where she is unable to get to her tutorial in time because she doesn’t have her ID on her, doesn’t have gravity to it – and this is despite how brilliantly Emily Olum plays Lydia’s frustrations. 

In this play, there are already more white characters than characters of Black descent and choosing to have Lydia be suspended only plays into colorism. Whose stories deserve the most time? Which Black people get to be heard and which Black people are silenced? Unfortunately, I know Black students who have had to leave Oxbridge for a few weeks, who have been at the brink of dropping out not just because of racist incidents but because of how poorly the College has dealt with it, and Lydia’s speech isn’t speaking for these people. She talks of going into shops and feeling stared at, which is only the tip of the overwhelming scrutiny one feels – and also ironically the overwhelming invisibility one feels in social and romantic settings – as a dark-skinned woman. While she is still on stage, Lydia objects to Jess being made the face of the campaign – why isn’t a Zimbabwean student spearheading it? However, this is only done in passing and neverly properly explored. 

Not only is Jess’s story told at the expense of Lydia’s, but Jess as a character (played, it must be noted, by the writer) is frustratingly contradictory. Instead of seeing Lydia’s struggles with feeling alienated and not heard, we watch Jess’s relationship troubles with her ‘blokey’ boyfriend. The second scene is devoted to their romantic-comicsque first date. While it garnered huge laughs from the audience, it fundamentally didn’t drive forward the action of the story. Throughout the play, Jess dismisses Lydia as histrionic, stating that her standoffishness is the reason she’s not fitting in – and then later monologues about how she feels left out in certain social circles. When Jess eventually breaks up with her boyfriend, it is not because of his affiliation with racist football and rugby lads but because he exasperatedly says that she is not Black, a sentiment which she herself espouses earlier in the play. 

Jess/Denny ends the play standing up in a Union debate about whether the statue should be taken down, saying the line, ‘we want to open up a conversation’. The problem is – we don’t. Black students who campaigned for the removal of the statue weren’t interested in deluging the process with bureaucratic procedures and meetings. This final line, along with the rest of the play, was differing, opting for a more whitewashed portrayal of what is an uncomfortable and painful reality. Sitting in that majority-white audience as one of three girls of Black descent in my Cambridge college year group, I felt unable to connect to the play. I didn’t see my experiences as a dark-skinned woman at that sort of university accurately and sensitively represented. 


Trouble in Mind

Trouble in Mind

Originally published on Exeunt Magazine on 17 December 2021

Trouble in Mind Production Photo (Credit: Johan Persson)

With Trouble in Mind, a biting satire about the rehearsal process for an off-Broadway play, Alice Childress was set to become the first Black female playwright to have a play produced on Broadway. However, there was one caveat – the white producers wanted Childress to soften her tone so that the play would be palatable to white audiences. 

With this stipulation, Trouble in Mind would have become as diluted as the play which the cast is rehearsing – Chaos in Belleville, a play about a lynching which is written, directed, and produced by white men. The most experienced and most vocal Black cast member, Willetta Mayer, fights for the characters to be rewritten, to be more authentic. 

Just like Willetta, Childress refused to filter her voice, subsequently sacrificing the career mobility of being on Broadway. In fact, despite their overall submission to the infantilising white director Al Manners, many of the Black characters in Trouble speak out as surrogates for Childress’s lived experiences of racism as an African-American actress and playwright in an industry that claimed to be ‘race-conscious’ in the 1950s. Now, nearly seventy years later, at the National Theatre (following a recent Broadway revival), director Nancy Medina dares us to assess whether things have changed that much for Black artists in the theatre industry. 

The production begins with the sound of a heavy stage door swinging open and Willetta (Tanya Moodie) stepping onto the Dorfman stage, which has been transformed by Rajha Sakiry into a warm and dusty rehearsal space. This rehearsal room is in the margins of Broadway and the actors that move around in it are in the margins of the industry. While the Black actors, John (Daniel Adeosun), Sheldon (Cyril Nri), Millie (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) and Willetta, have all had some success, they’re currently stuck off-Broadway, trying to make ends meet, playing harmful stereotypes and yes-men to Manners with varying amounts of enthusiasm. 

Rory Keenan is particularly captivating as Manners. With grandiose gestures, he constantly competes with Moodie for dominance over the stage, infantilizes the other Black cast members, and insinuates more racist subtexts to his comedic words. In the second act, we get the privilege of watching his bizarre – and, at points, terrifying – direction. It’s just as fun watching Keenan indulgently watch the rehearsal run of Chaos as it is watching the chaotically staged play-within-a-play itself. 

Luckily, Medina handles the large ensemble more deftly than Manners. While she doesn’t have her actors prancing and flailing around the stage, she works with the movement director Rachael Nanyonjo to maximise the use of every corner of the intimate stage, as the actors interact with each other and move around fluidly. The first act feels like a game of musical chairs – at one point, John and Judy flirt noiselessly by sitting next to each other on the corner of the stage block; at another, Willetta gets relegated by Manners to the corner chair. By the third act, Willetta fights against the pecking order of the seating. Moodie’s herculean repositioning of Shakiry’s set attests to her fight to keep her voice – it is such an awe-inspiring moment of defiance and individualism, she (and the audience) doesn’t stop to ask, ‘at what cost?’ 

From the direction to the acting, the National Theatre’s production makes Childress’s words feel timeless, as if Trouble could have been set anywhere, at any time. While this speaks to this production’s thoughtful and sharp revival, it’s unfortunate that the racism in this 1950s play set in America still resonates so keenly in the 21st century on a British stage. 


Fair Play

Fair Play

Fair Play Production Photo (Credit: Ali Wright)

The two teenage friends in Fair Play exchange dialogue with a fast pace which is characteristic of their shared passion – athletics, specifically the 800m race. These girls, Ann and Sophie, only ever meet during their training sessions at an athletics club, the running track of which forms the set. This track not only covers the ground of the stage but runs all the way up the walls. If Naomi Dawson’s design makes us, the audience, feel immersed in the world of training and athletics, we can only imagine how claustrophobic it must feel for these girls who face the never-ending pressures of performing well, beating their personal beats, and beating each other, as well as the pressures of school work, relationships, and puberty.  

At the beginning of the play, when Sophie, a White Brit played by Charlotte Beaumont (who brilliantly embodies the mannerisms of a girl who carries the weight of her adult-sized worries and ambitions on her teenage shoulders) asks Ann, a Nigerian-American played by NicK King, where she’s ‘really’ from, it’s clear that this play will also be about race. This question is a clever red-herring from writer Ella Road, because the real ‘race’ issue isn’t about migration and interpersonal microaggressions. It’s a play about racism in the sports industry and science. Road clearly draws from the real life experiences of South African 800m runner, Caster Semenya, for Ann’s story throughout her play. 

Semenya, in 2018, was told by the International Association of Athletics Federations that she could not participate in any athletics events because she had higher than average levels of testosterone which gave her an ‘unfair’ advantage over women with ‘normal’ testosterone levels (read: white women). In order to be able to compete, she would have to reduce her testosterone levels. The IAAF maintained that they wanted to ‘preserve fair and meaningful competition in the female classification’. In this play, in which Ann is similarly banned from running due to a disorder of sexual development, Road exposes the implicit racism and misogynoir of this pursuit for ‘fair play’, and has, in no uncertain terms, adapted Semenya’s trial and tribulation for the stage.  

Road draws heavily on Semenya’s arguments that she had used to challenge the IAAF’s ruling as inspiration for Ann’s dialogue. For example, Semenya (and Ann) lists other athletes, like Michael Phelps and LeBron James, who are also genetically different but haven’t been banned from participating in their respective sports. 

However, 30-year-old Semenya was speaking to an interviewer whereas 17-year-old Ann was speaking spontaneously to her friend. Because Road copies Semenya’s words verbatim, Ann’s lines come across as incongruous compared to the rest of her realistic teenage dialogue and vocabulary. Road, in devoting the crux of the second half of the play to delivering Semenya’s debate points against the IAAF, neglects to show us how Ann is feeling. We never get to witness Ann’s mental torment beyond her shout-crying Semenya’s words. 

Another example is when, three years after the IAAF’s ruling, Semenya told the Guardian, ‘I trained like a slave to be the greatest’ and that taking the drugs to lower her testerone levels would be like ‘taking the soul out of my body […] they want me to take my own system down.’ Ann, in the play, says, ‘the empire may have died but they’re still colonising our bodies’. This line does border on didacticism but is memorable because Road has honed in on Semenya’s off-hand analogy here about slavery, and connected it to a wider discourse around imperialism and white supremacy. Throughout the play, Road probes the objectification and devaluation of Black humanity in a more subtle way – through Sophie’s relationship to Ann. When Ann delivers this line, we see Sophie’s physical and facial response. Beaumont deftly conveys the shock of seeing her friend break down, the discomfort of not really understanding the problem with the ruling, and the relief of finding out that the reason why she can’t beat her friend has nothing to do with her ability. Sophie’s multifaceted response, we can imagine, is the response of most people (athletes and non-athletes alike) to Semenya’s tribulation and we get to see it on stage in real time with all of its emotional complexity. 

Sophie’s love-hate relationship with Ann acts as a microcosm for governing bodies in the sports industry. Like sponsors and those financially invested in athletics, Sophie loves how Ann motivates her, and provides her with entertainment during the arduous training sessions. Yet Sophie hates how she can’t easily exert control over Ann – Ann has her own life and boyfriend, and Sophie (who is, it is suggested, a lesbian) is annoyed that she can’t ‘have’ Ann. Frustrated with Ann’s effortless first-places and feeling like a failure, Sophie copies Ann – she copies her eating and sleep patterns, and treats her as a manual. Sophie sees Ann as a slacker, who eats Burger King and neglects her long runs (although we do see her during scene intervals train as hard as Sophie, as hard as Semenya would have been). Sophie sees Ann as a specimen of interest which she can’t access and figure out. If, then, each scene is like a bleep test and each conversation Ann and Sophie has flirts between competition and bonding, then this is symbolic of Sophie’s innate competitiveness. Sophie, however, never thinks to just speak to Ann about her anxieties and worries. Sophie, subconsciously, is like the IAAF in that she also turns her friend into a ‘thing’. It’s hard, however, to feel as angry with Sophie as it is to feel anger against the athletics governing bodies, who also want to exert control over Ann. This is because Road, quite rightly, gives Sophie’s her own bodily ‘defects’ and disorders, such as osteoporosis and disordered eating, which elicit sympathy. 

However, while Sophie also has these disorders, her body is never objectified – and that is the crucial difference between the way Black women and white women are treated, not just in sport, but throughout life in general. Road shows us how Black women are constantly objectified, turned into ‘bodies’, which white people try to control and diminish.




Foxes Production Photo (Credit: Adam Yemane)

Foxes is a simple and poignant story about how twenty-year-old Daniel’s coming-out affects his relationships with his best friend, his girlfriend, and his Caribbean family. With the rhythmic slang and vitalising grime, afrobeats, and dancehall segues, writer Dexter Flanders has captured an authentic slice of Black British life in North London. Director-and-producer James Hillier’s influence is felt in the parts of the production which aren’t to do with language – the scenes and their changes that double as physical theatre routines. These airy scene transitions are incongruous to the raw social realism of the language and acting. 

Take for example Scene Two. It is written in the published October 2021 edition as:

Daniel’s dreaming, he’s in a big black cave. Hands and feet chained. He’s stood star-shaped covered in tar, wearing only rags as underwear. Thunder and lightning roar through the sky. In front of him lies a baby wrapped up in a cot crying. The crying gets louder and louder. Daniel is petrified, he attempts to break free from the chains to help but can’t.

This is thematically more conceptual than the scene prior to this where Daniel has been told by his girlfriend, Meera, that she’s pregnant and keeping the baby. This passage is rife with rhetorical devices, such as pathetic fallacy, which can help the reader infer what Daniel’s reaction to the pregnancy may be. For example, the thunder and lightning is symbolic of the wider existential crisis that this pregnancy presents. It seems like the thunder and lightning isn’t actually a danger to the baby – it’s more like the baby is symbiotic with the weather and they’re working together to oppress Daniel.

However, we don’t need such heavy subtext on stage where Michael Fatogun’s acting and reacting to July Namir (Meera) in the first scene relays a lot of this information. On the Theatre Peckham stage, design constraints meant a lot of this second scene couldn’t be staged. Instead, Fatogun stands, dressed in all black, in the middle of the room, jerking and trying to rid himself of imaginary chains. We have moved abruptly from a slice-of-life kitchen-sink drama in the first scene to a staccato symbolic performance which stagnates the piece as a whole. Thankfully, this staging reins in the script’s initial cave concept.  

While Hillier is an experienced director and actor, it seems like his BBC soap operatic background is not the experience needed for the staging of lived Black gay experiences. However, Josh Anio Grigg’s brilliantly unnerving music design and the direction of the actors’ movements and body language tempers the potential melodrama of the last scene:

Daniel looks to the door and then puts his head on Leon’s leg […] Daniel and Leon like clockwork both re-adjust and create distance between them. Daniel picks up Nevaeh. The rest enter with the cake, singing happy birthday and they all join in.

The urgency with which Fatogun and Anyebe Godwin (Leon) ‘create distance’ as the family come in, completely oblivious, is heart-breaking and speaks volume, especially set against the non-diegetic music. In creating distance, Fatogun stands completely by himself on the stage, signposting his alienation from his family. We feel the sense of danger of having their sexualities be revealed. They look at each other, sad that they cannot openly be happy together and, unlike in the script, Daniel does not pick up Nevaeh, Getting rid of that moment of intimacy for the character suggests that his clear priority and love in life is Leon who he touches and that Nevaeh is a product of, and burden carried over from, a life Daniel wishes he didn’t have to have. 

The acting in this last scene shows the realities of being in the closet in a Caribbean household. The illicitness and clandestineness codes these characters as criminals even though they’re simply in a relationship. This  is an uncomfortable reality for many people. If only there were more of those brilliant flashes of direction from Hillier and less of the physical theatre fluff. If anything, you should watch this show for the last scene alone. 




Manor Production Photo (Credit: Manuel Harlan)


16 Nov 21 – 1 Jan 22


Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX

Book tickets here

On paper, Manor, written and directed by sisters Moira and Fiona Buffini respectively, is a provocative and comedic exposé of the state of the nation. In practice, the play produces very few laughs and even fewer lucid analyses of the far-right in modern British society. Manor feels like the theatrical equivalent of a sparkler that has been lit in a torrential rain and hisses and squibs, much to the chagrin of the audience. 

Depictions of torrential rain is one of the few things Manor gets right. Lez Brotherston’s set and Jon Nicholls sound design come together to perfectly emulate the apocalyptic storm that punctuates the play. Lady Diana, the owner of the manor, allows a ragtag group of refugees to shelter with her family during this storm. Among these refugees is a trio (Ruth, Anton, and ringmaster Teddy) from a far-right organisation, Albion, which is in the leagues of Neo-Nazi groups and the KKK. Teddy falls in love with Diana’s manor because, to him, it epitomises England at its most pure (read: white). Because of her title, he falls in love with Diana too. This Lady Diana gag isn’t as sharp as the play thinks – yes, she was part of the most English institution ever, but she was an outsider (which is the reason why so many people of colour relate to Diana).

All three Albion members explain their organisation’s genocidal impulses and how England has been soiled by inferior races, pushing the superior ones to the margins. The issue is they don’t really talk about race in any meaningful way. Instead, when Teddy hits Ripley, a Black Nurse, he shouts, ‘you people are fucking Pharisees’, this feels like a damp and vague attempt at racial tension. At one point, we get the pleasure of watching Teddy radicalise Perry, a caravan-dweller who’s recently been made redundant from Sainsburys and who is the butt of many unfunny fatphobic jokes. When incited to say what he feels about his Sainsbury’s manager, he says the P word. This use of this slur can’t even be called inflammatory because the entire scene has no emotional charge or lead-up. Rather, it’s an awkward stab at depicting how racial politics lies at the heart of the far-right’s recruitment and ethos. Maybe Moira, of Irish descent, has no intimate understanding of how radicalised young people, amongst their peers, feel confident enough to commit hate crimes and racist attacks against global majorities.

Moira has the opportunity to parody far-right ideology throughout the three different characters. Each character has a different identity marker which allows for individualised ‘recruitment’ speeches. Ruth focuses on the white woman’s role in Albion while Anton speaks for people with lived experience of the prison system and Perry for disabled people. 

Anton’s rhetoric is just as endearing as that which is espoused by spokespeople for far-right organisations at rallies, in academia, on social media. However, unlike real-life ideology, in Manor, it is very incoherent and there is little clarity. While this could be a satirical depiction of the far-right, we spend so much time trying to make sense of the words and his argument that the whole attempt at lampooning feels ill-considered and without purpose. 

The implicit explorations of how the far-right operate are far more interesting. We see Teddy recruit people considered ‘weak’ by society – those that are blind, overweight, criminals. However, although he was able to recruit Anton, who, like his US counterpart, is played by a mixed race actor, the organisation is unable to manipulate Dora, the daughter of Nurse Ripley. On the surface, Albion may be inciting a race war but it is clear that this is a war between those with a solid sense of self and those without. For example, Dora is able to see that Anton is just a token. 

Moira affords long speeches and stagetime to the far-right but isn’t able to make us feel anything for those on the right side’. During the interval, I heard one audience member say that ‘the nurse is a neutral character’. This, in a play where this character is the moral centre and hero of the story, is an underwhelming takeaway. Therein lies the problem. These characters act as extras meant only to react to the far-right. Fiona’s direction only exacerbates the superficial nature of these ‘good’ characters.

She has not, it seems, encouraged the actors to non-verbally react to the dangers of terrorism they see in front of them, except for when they have a quirky one-liner to say (Isadora glibly retorts that the world is being destroyed by ‘hormonal white men’). For example, as Teddy croons about Diana’s superiority to other women, Ripley simply walks past with no reaction. After the Reverend reveals that his ‘father saw first hand the horror of white supremacy’, the other characters don’t react. They just walk away and the play steamrolls onto a different conversation.

We get no resolution whatsoever. Instead, these quasi-Antifa characters feel like Chekhov’s unused gun.


The Wife of Willesden

The Wife of Willesden

The Wife of Willesden Production Photo (Credit: Marc Brenner)


26 Nov 21 – 15 Jan 22


269 Kilburn High Road, London, UK, NW6 7JR

Book tickets here

The Wife of Willesden, Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Zadie Smith’s debut play, celebrates the borough of Brent after being awarded the London Borough of Culture in 2020. Like part of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the play is set in an inn – the Sir Colin Campbell Pub on Kilburn High Road. However, Robert Jones’ set, with its kitschy lampshades and beautiful dark wood paneling, feels a lot cosier than Chaucer’s Tabard Inn must have been. The pub feels familiar for those who live in North West London and those who don’t alike – a feeling that can be maximised if you choose the option to sit on stage as if you’re one of the pub-goers. These pub-goers are celebrating their borough’s recent award with a lock-in and a night of story-telling.

In this enthusiastic reinterpretation of The Wife of Bath, Clare Perkins, of Eastenders fame, exudes sex appeal and charm as Alvita, a Willesden native and five-time wife. While Perkins does have a larger-than-life presence and great verbal dexterity to pull it off, Alvita’s ‘prologue’ is (thankfully) not just a 60-minute monologuing of Chaucer’s 860ish lines. While Performs discourses about power, sexuality, and gender norms in society, she interacts with the ensemble cast of pub-goers. The best moments of the play were when Perkins interacts with the other actors while proving her many ‘feminist’ points. It would have been great to see more of the relationships between the different ensemble characters (we catch a glimpse of this when there is a brief argument between the preacher (George Eggay) and the bailiff (Andrew Frame)) and not just their relationships to Alvita. These interrelationships would fit with the spirit of Chaucer’s Tales – Chaucer arranges the tales so that their themes speak to each other, for example the Wife’s tale forms part of a larger ‘marriage group’ of tales. 

Nevertheless, The Wife of Willesden is a sprawling and ambitious project. Despite the multi-rolling, there isn’t that much variety in the actual action. Even the comic gags and asides became a bit redundant after the first few times.

Apart from the set change which transitions us from the London pub to 18th century Jamaica, there wasn’t much of a difference tonally between the prologue and the tale. In this sense, Smith’s debut play is similar to her debut novel, White Teeth, which could have also benefited – by her own admission – from intentional streamlining. However, here in the Kiln theatre, it’s not that there needs to be less storylines but rather more – the prologue would have felt noticeably drawn and insular. This is fine when reading Chaucer but as a piece of theatre, dynamism is key and Indhu Rubasingham’s staging can only add so much of this. 

As mentioned, Smith has updated the setting of The Wife of Bath’s tale from the Arthurian courts to 18th century Jamaica. Jamaica is where Alvita hails from – however, apart from this reason, there is no real rhyme or reason for why this particular location has been chosen. This is a larger problem with this production. The fact that Chaucer’s Alison hails from Bath, a cloth-making town, is important to her overall character and presentation and is the reason for the stylish way she dresses and her ‘high maintenance’. We don’t get that sense of intention here – Alvita is from Willesden but seemingly only because it allows for stylish alliteration in the title. Even the nods to Kilburn throughout the prologue feel facile. Without the quick mention of the 98 bus which goes through Kilburn High Road, this play could be set anywhere in London. I left the theatre not really understanding what makes Brent the London Borough of Culture. 

This production is of course an adaptation of Chaucer but risks feeling like a prostration. Smith inserts a surrogate who bookends the production with an apologetic admission that she’s paying a debt and that this is her first stab at theatre. This is something Chaucer himself does. However, Chaucer doesn’t shy away from playing with and debasing the classical texts that he pays homage to throughout his oeuvre. However, Zadie dares do nothing of the sort. In the end, this makes the play feel like one giant literature project, as if an English student has been told to reinterpret The Wife of Bath for extra credit. 


Black Futures

Hand in hand with the performing arts comes recording and documenting it. There are many national archive collections, some of which are specifically for the preservation of black theatre, such as the Black Plays Archives. Even though they’re being documented for the future, these diverse Black legacies are being homogenised and compared to White performance history. Black Futures is the complete opposite. It’s actually rejecting this archiving landscape entirely and is set in an alternative world instead.

Black Futures is an immersive website which showcases the work created by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Nina Bowers, and Nine Nights. The content is about Afro-centric experiences across different mediums, times and places. In this sense, Black Futures is more like a speculative anthology like Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, edited by Edward Austin Hall and Bill Campbell. Entering the website makes you feel like you’re discovering new worlds within a tiny island. 

The website is a VR performance piece in and of itself – but it’s not the smoothest experience. It feels like a rudimentary and psychedelic version of Google maps or Minecraft where you get to direct yourself. Unlike a literary anthology, you can easily spend so much time trying to navigate the website that you aren’t able to watch the content in quick succession and then you lose the sense of curation. 

It took a while to figure out that you have to use the direction keys to turn left and right. Luckily, there are hyperlinked pictures at the bottom you can use to directly get to different areas of the island and find the content on the website. Maybe these can be captioned so people know exactly what content is where.

The website’s theme of creating a whole new world is emulated in Brathwaite-Shirley’s video game, ‘Into the Storm’. Regarding what drove her to create this alternative world, Brathwaite-Shirley commented that there aren’t any adequate Black trans spaces on Earth so she made one beyond it. Brathwaite-Shirley’s command of free and amateur technology, such as the motion capture and 3D animation, is commendable. Her video game is a brilliant example of commissioning the right type of ideas for this sort of website. However, you have to exit the website and go onto YouTube to actually choose the next chapters in the video game. Unfortunately this interrupts the overall immersive experience of the website so it may not be the right space for interactive content. 

Through their curation, Anthony Simpson-Pike and Rose Elnile have platformed thoughtful artistic practices, from artists who wouldn’t get a chance to be commissioned in a normative White dominant society. These artists were only given a week and there are only three pieces so far. As more content gets added, there could be other islands so that the content could be grouped thematically such as a music island, a video game island, and a short film island. Right now, there is a risk of sensory overload with the brightness and abrasiveness of the colours on the website. There should be an option to navigate the website in grayscale. It would be great if there were estimated viewing times or a note of how long each video is or even how many videos there are in total so you don’t feel so lost as to where to start or stop. These areas of improvement will engage a wider audience and help disseminate Black Futures’ message further: it is decolonising the performing arts landscape and archive.


seven methods of killing kylie jenner

seven methods of killing kylie jenner

seven methods of killing kylie jenner Production Photo (Credit: Myah Jeffers)

The Royal Court Theatre prides itself on cultivating emerging writers and voices who have something to say about the State of the Nation. The premise of Lee-Jones’ debut, seven methods of killing kylie jenner,  definitely lives up to the tradition of Royal Court Theatre’s ethos of championing unorthodox, unconventional political plays.

This is in many ways a morality play on Blackness and the many identities within this, such as queer Black people and dark-skinned Black women. However, Lee-Jones’ discussion about rich white American influencers profiting off Blackness while discriminating against the women they copy feels foreign on a British stage. Running at 90 minutes, the play is chock full of one-liners, fit for a 240 character tweet, and theoretical buzzwords. At times, it feels like skimming  from discourse to discourse (from misogynoir to homophobia in Black communities) stops the audience from ever becoming critically engaged with the matters at hand – not a problem necessarily, except for the majority of the audience is white. Leanne Henlon’s ability to glide through the dialogue as Cleo brings to life what could easily be clunky dialogue. Reading that this production was a revised script has me worrying what the pace of the earlier seven methods must have felt like?

seven methods is commendable for its astute and fervent commentary on race, gender, and class (in America? In Britain?), but is always on the verge of sacrificing substance for style, especially when it comes to the Twitterludes. Turning the platform Twitter into a physical space is no doubt a difficult feat, and has been rendered innovatively in this production. Director Milli Bhatia’s interpretations of these Twitterludes are fun, even if the different accents that Cleo and Kara switch between aren’t always comprehensible, and even if it gets a little hard to separate between the quote tweets, the replies, the gifs as the speed and intensity ramps up during the production. In many respects, though, this edge on which you feel during the Twitterludes emulates the feeling of missing out on the latest Discourse on Twitter because your phone has refreshed too quickly. Rajha Shakiry’s set design infers this as well – as the ropes begin falling from the huge tree that dominates the stage, racists find her tweets, the death threats against Cleo snowball and she loses all control. 

If you’re well versed in Black Twitter/Tumblr, then this is the play for you.