Sweet Like Chocolate Boy
Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 2nd November 2018
“combines interesting characters, a captivating storyline and engaging language with brilliantly realised, often hilarious interpretations”
The richness and complexity of Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu’s play, ‘Sweet Like Chocolate Boy’, and the artistry of this new production at the Jack Studio Theatre is hard to describe. Based on two boys who live in the same London borough in different eras, he breaks down stereotypes and, with true understanding of character, takes us into a world of merging lives, reality, fantasy and music which celebrates how the growth of Black British culture in the 90s has made it what it is today.
Mars is today’s youth. Street-wise, full of enthusiasm, imagination and confidence, he heads towards the girl of his dreams, only to be confronted by people who question his heart, head and vanity. Bounty is from the 90s. Quietly out of place in a politically electric climate, he wants and tries to be a part of the world he’s in. Andrew Umerah (Mars) and Michael Levi Fatogun (Bounty) give compelling performances, showing the strengths and vulnerabilities of their times – Bounty swept along by a powerful wave of Black identity, but unable to keep up and Mars living the strong cultural legacy of Bounty’s day, but struggling to find his own place. Fatogun also gives excellent portrayals as the policeman, ghost and, in particular, the frightening force of Fantasia’s dad as he challenges Mars’ feelings for his daughter. Umerah skilfully contrasts Mars with Bounty’s dad, Prophet (an American Black Panther type) and Bounty’s best friend, James, brought up to be the typical white racist of that time. Veronica Beatrice Lewis offers wonderfully colourful acting as the boisterous, self-assured Sandra who likes to tease Bounty’s meekness, the lovely, sincere Michele, Bounty’s first love and Fantasia, whose self-possessed nature Mars falls for.
Fynn-Aiduenu’s direction captures the vibrant energy of both today and the 90s with language, movement and music creating their own moments of drama and humour. As we enter the theatre, the DJ (Gabby Nimmo/Alice Fofana) presides and remains as a godly presence throughout. Sound (Shadé Joseph) and lighting (Bethany Gupwell) fit perfectly into the action, taking us slickly from one scene to another and the movement is ingeniously directed by Sean Graham while simple costumes (Tara Usher) effectively use minimal alterations and details to change persona.
‘Sweet Like Chocolate Boy’ combines interesting characters, a captivating storyline and engaging language with brilliantly realised, often hilarious interpretations, innovative staging and plenty of garage and jungle to create a uniquely descriptive and unforgettable experience.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Aaron Kelly
Sweet Like Chocolate Boy
Jack Studio Theatre until 17th November
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Bread & Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 10th May 2018
“a prescient rather than topical piece of writing, nevertheless this undernourished production seems to miss an opportunity”
Something smells fresh at The Bread and Roses theatre, with a new artistic director, new writing talent and emerging actors all involved in The Buzz, one of three winning plays from the theatre’s 2016/17 competition for new works. Lydia Rynne’s dark comedy addresses the dubious ethics of celebrity through the persona of Kyla (Sassy Clyde), a once well-known TV star now reduced to being ‘a famous elbow’ intruding into the cropped photos of her popstar partner, Josh (Andrew Umerah), on the red carpet.
The show starts promisingly. Still buzzing after Josh’s triumphant night at the awards, the celebrity couple return to their shared penthouse to enjoy the event’s coverage on TV and social media. As Josh retires and Kyla drinks alone, her dropout brother Nate (Gabriel Cagan) visits, seemingly to tease her about her obsession with fame and berate her neglect of her family. Implausibly, he then sends her out for more alcohol, whereupon his partner-in-protest Cordelia (who humorously prefers the name ‘Anon’) joins him to drug and truss up the rock star, hoping to extract a confession of tax evasion. Matters deteriorate into black farce as Kyla returns and Cordelia blurts out another, more disturbing narrative.
As a promising new writer, Lydia Rynne and the actors could have hoped for firmer direction. Characterisations wander and the reliability of testimonies dissipates in a morass of unclear motivations. Andrew Umerah portrays the entitlement of success well, but finds it harder to keep up when the character becomes more ambiguous. Similarly, Sassy Clyde plays the wise-cracking lass from Chorley with no problems, but her character is supposed to have known fame and is still addicted to the idea of stardom. To be plausible, more steel and composure is needed, whereas Hannah Duffy’s conflicted Cordelia breezes in, emotionally committed in performance as if from another genre. Gabriel Cagan is solid as Nate, playing the anti-establishment squatter with all the naivety and angst the stereotype demands.
As incoming artistic director, Velenzia Spearpoint’s direction of her own first production may be an overreach. The unimaginative set (Sally Hardcastle) with its cardboard gold records feels more suited to Nate’s squatter community than to a global superstar, though it’s greatly helped by Chuma Emembolu on the sound desk, managing the output of the invisible big screen TV like a Dad with the remote control.
The nature of the line-up makes this a take on celebrity derived from the media rather experience, all white rugs and pink drinks. However, in the final moments the play hits a live cable, evoking recent celebrity rape scandals, the abuse of power and stifling of the female voice. Given the competition predates the scandals, The Buzz is a prescient rather than topical piece of writing, nevertheless this undernourished production seems to miss an opportunity.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Bread & Roses Theatre until 19th May