Cedar Lewisohn

A vital piece of theatre: Royal Court’s For Black Boys reviewed

The cast of For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy. Photo: Ali Wright

The psychiatrist and political philosopher Franz Fanon published the book Black Skin, White Masks in 1952. With chapter titles such as ‘The Black Man and Language’, ‘The Black Man and The White Woman’, and ‘The Black Man and Psychopathology’, the book remains a rigorous and unflinching dissection of the psychology of race from a black perspective. The play For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy takes inspiration from Ntozake Shange’s 1976 theatre piece, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Fanon is however, an equally important reference when thinking about the staging of this work at the Royal Court. 

Written and directed by Ryan Calais Cameron the play focuses on the stories of six young black men who have come together for group therapy. The performance presents sets of experiences that are often harrowing but also includes moments of joy and rapture. The opening scene uses dance and stark lighting to stunning visual effect. The sequence ends with the group of men holding up the actor Nnabiko Ejimofor in an entwined formation that evokes a contemporary Pietà. This powerful start sets the tone for the fast paced and dynamic narrative to unfold from. 

The play speaks directly to the multifaceted and complex psychology of being a young black man in 21st-century Britain. Starting in early childhood and moving through to adulthood, the various vignettes relayed show how our society creates victimisation and estrangement for some, but not others. Despite accounts of racism, bullying and police harassment, there is also humour and optimism. The energy bounces off the stage and ranges from emotionally dark to celebratory. Horrific and beautiful. The bright and garish, acid pop colour schemes of the set and lighting, work as a great device to contrast the testimonies being given.

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