Black Love at the Kiln Theatre – Review – ★★★★
A provocative exploration of Black Love in 21st Century Britain, Chinonyerem Odimba’s play with music puts the Black lived experience under the microscope, and challenges the predominant white gaze.
Nicholle Cherrie and Nathan Queeley-Dennis are siblings Roo and Orion, young adults finding their place in the world some time after the passing of their parents.
Roo’s place is that of party-girl, living life to the max, as well as activist: she champions Black women, calls for them to be at one with their sexuality and sensuality, and challenges the pervasive white patriarchy.
Orion is a wannabe actor, traipsing from one audition to another, yearning to escape from the typecasting which sees him up for roles defined by the colour of his skin.
They playfully take jabs at each other, in their shared flat, but form a loving and secure bubble – only for Orion to meet and fall for white girl Lois (Beth Elliott), who takes little time encroaching on Roo’s space and disrupting their hitherto harmonious existence.
Lois’ arrival represents an unwelcome – to Roo – intrusion into a realm of Black Love, that which was enjoyed by Roo & Orion’s parents: a faithful honouring and respect for Black history and culture, and a celebration of the virtues of being the ‘other’ in a monochrome world.
The story rightly provides its audience, in particular its white audience who may instinctively balk at Roo’s passionate repudiation of Lois and her seemingly well-meaning, yet often misguided, attempts at sisterly identification. But this is a healthy, constructive, necessary challenge – Black Love makes no apology for, well, making no apology. As Roo herself says, there are some things about the Black lived experience which white people can never understand, and they certainly shouldn’t expect for it to be explained to them.
This might all sound like weighty stuff, a tough sell for a night (or afternoon) at the theatre, but Black Love is everything above as well as being full of heart, and propelled by excellent music from Ben and Max Ringham. Whilst not a musical, as such, much of the storytelling here is related through song, emotively performed by the three players.
The set is simple but effective, and this kind of show really brings out the best in in-the-round theatre. You really feel like you’re in Roo & Orion’s flat, as you tap your feet to the tunes.