★★★ ½

Theatre Royal Stratford East

CHEEKY LITTLE BROWN at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

★★★ ½

“a grower of a piece whose meaning lingers after it’s done”

Described by writer Nkenna Akunna as ‘an ode to your early twenties’, ‘cheeky little brown’ follows Lady, played by Tiajna Amayo, for a night on the town as she attempts to reconnect with recently estranged childhood friend – Gemma – with indications there may have been something more than friendship.

Lady is a pretty complex character. At times she is an uncomfortably hateful extrovert – commanding attention at Gemma’s birthday party whilst dismissing her friends and housemates. Yet we see from Tiajna Amayo’s deft performance how much of this bravado is a front for the deep rejection she feels. The occasional glimpse of a low, inward facing moment is accompanied by subtle lighting cues under Jodie Underwood’s direction, drawing you in to consider what’s left unsaid.

Whilst it’s at the party that we get to know Lady and her quirks, the piece really comes into its own in the second half when Amayo’s Lady leaves the party and is in a more reflective mood on the night bus home. After the highly-strung antics which result in an explosion of glittering vomit (to the delight of the audience) a laid-back Lady emerges.

Amayo gamely steps in to voice other characters Lady encounters on her way. She affects an exaggerated laid back drawl for Jessie, one of Gemma’s posh, uni friends, and a bang on Nigerian Auntie, berating her for being out so late. Amayo switches between characters with ease. Extra credit must also be given to her also for continuing to indulge in much of Chinonyerem Odimba’s direction despite the use of crutches adopted after an injury in rehearsals.

‘cheeky little brown’s’ considered aesthetic is perfectly matched to the drama. Set by Aldo Vazquez packs a punch from gold streamers and two-foot-tall, hot pink balloon letters spelling out ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY GURRRL’. Balloons are a key ingredient for other moments too, to great effect. The sound design is equally impressive, with a rich auditory landscape of techno beats through to birdsong meaning Amayo never seems lonely on the stage.

The few musical numbers unfortunately lack creativity. The melodies are not memorable nor the lyrics particularly clever – but Amayo does a good job working with what she’s given. What the songs are successful at is emphasising Lady’s extroverted tendencies, thereby building her character.

It’s a character we are still left questioning as the curtain falls. Back at home she vomits again… and again… and it slowly starts becoming clear that there’s more than just heartbreak ailing Lady, hiding in plain sight.

‘cheeky little brown’ is a grower of a piece whose meaning lingers after it’s done. With cleverly subtle writing and direction, fun design and a confident performance from Tiajna Amayo it’s a specifically contemporary piece that explores young, black, queer love and mental health in a surprisingly light-hearted and fun way.

CHEEKY LITTLE BROWN at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

Reviewed on 17th April 2024

by Amber Woodward

Photography by Craig Fuller



Previously reviewed at this venue:

THE BIG LIFE | ★★★★★ | February 2024
BEAUTIFUL THING | ★★★★★ | September 2023



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page