BLACK SUPERHERO at the Royal Court
“Wynter’s script is light footed and fast paced, packed with witty one liners, but unafraid of sombre, more human moments”
Black Superhero is a fresh and exciting exploration of black queer love, and representation, which effortlessly manages to straddle the personal and political.
David (played by writer Danny Lee Wynter) is a struggling actor, trying to stay true to his principals about black queer representation, but also trying to pay the rent. He is in love with his best friend, King (Dyllón Burnside) and King has just opened his marriage. However, what unfolds is not a love story, but a power struggle of hero-worship, self-loathing and the inevitable spiral into dark and familiar places.
Wynter’s script is light footed and fast paced, packed with witty one liners, but unafraid of sombre, more human moments. While questions of representation, particularly about whether queer actors should play queer parts, and queer baiting, do dominate the discussion, they are handled lightly. There are no tired and long-winded explanations, this is a play which expects a level of knowledge from its audience. As such it can dabble in the conversation, without getting weighed down by it. Also, it’s very funny. The biting satire of the white characters had the audience groaning, wincing and cackling. Yet the emotional connections felt real, and the depictions of joy were a pleasure. At one point David, speaking about the film Moonlight, comments on a lack of representation of queer joy. It is striking how much laughter (especially in the first half) does dominate the characters’ interactions.
Daniel Evans’ direction allows the play to bridge fantasy and reality but remain grounded in the present. The presence of an actual superhero on stage is bold, and at times a little clunky, but when it works, it works very well. There is a hilarious moment where superheroes in garish costumes are suspended in mid-air, parroting the ridiculous exposition all too familiar in blockbuster sci-fi. There is also an incredible moment where David is enveloped by a giant cape, occupying most of the stage.
Rochenda Sandall as David’s sister Syd was a real standout. She navigated the complex emotional role with energy and passion. She was both moving and hilarious.
Joanna Scotcher’s set is dynamic and futuristic. A huge metallic screen takes up much of the stage, made up of intersecting triangles whose borders occasionally glow (thanks to Ryan Day’s thoughtful lighting design). This screen bursts apart to reveal a bedroom, a party and at one point an intergalactic meeting spot. Sometimes though it means the action is cramped onto a small part of the stage, making it uncertain whether the set dominated some of the directorial decisions. There is one particular set piece, involving a waterfall made of sand, which is striking and beautiful and incredibly memorable.
While it’s true that the play loses steam a bit in the second half, it is original and somehow manages to have a new angle on questions of representation. In terms of representation itself, it is interesting how revolutionary it feels to see three gay black men kissing on stage. And also, crucially, being allowed to laugh, as well as cry.
Reviewed on 22nd March 2023
by Auriol Reddaway
Photography by Johan Persson
Previously reviewed at this venue: