Tag Archives: Emmanuel Akwafo

For Black Boys

For Black Boys …


Royal Court

For Black Boys

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy 

Royal Court Theatre – Jerwood Theatre Downstairs


Reviewed – 7th April 2022



“a special, important piece of writing, and beautifully executed”


This show is not just a bunch of moving parts, gathered together. This is a whole, a collective: the music informs the text informs the design informs the lighting informs the performances. And it all moves in perfect synchronicity.

Taking place in an unidentified safe space, these six Black Boys come from different families, different backgrounds, and yet they all feel the weight of the monolithic ‘Black Man’: A black man doesn’t cry, he doesn’t show any weakness, he doesn’t need love.

Each character has a chance to speak his piece, be that regarding primary or secondary school, paternal relationships, romance, further education, or inescapable violence. And each is received without judgement, without fear of rejection.

Considering it’s an entire play of exposition, you’d think it would get tired pretty quickly, but writer-director Ryan Calais Cameron shows the depths and widths of this subject, the many angles and refractions, and he finely laces what is incredibly serious and unsmiling with so much tenderness and humour. He’s not afraid to take a very sombre moment and morph it in to a joke and then back again, or vice versa. For example, Midnight (Kaine Lawrence) tells us how he lost his virginity when he was nine to his babysitter. It’s the sort of messed up story boys are made to feel they should brag about. But obviously Midnight is traumatised, and while he’s trying to downplay his trauma (“And I can see you lot looking at me like I’m a victim”) the group starts singing, “I just want you to know that you are really special” from Snoop Dog and Pharrell’s ‘Beautiful’. They start in earnest, gathering closer and closer, embracing him tight, eventually breaking into affectionate laughter.

This is just one of so many moments which aren’t simply one thing- funny or sad; silly or serious. And the performances reflect this atmospheric plurality: everyone is somehow both acutely self-aware and touchingly naïve; honest in their disagreements and yet open to change; able to flip a smile in to a grimace with one breath.

Obviously this safe space is a fantasy, but these characters are so multifaceted, their interactions so genuine, it feels like maybe there’s a future where this kind of open dialogue could really exist.

Anna Reid’s design works in perfect tandem with this idea, using bold block colours to create a space that is both welcoming and Utopian. Layered with Rory Beaton’s equally bold lighting design, it feels isolating and inclusive in turn, giving each character their moments of solitude and fraternity.

And the dancing, and the singing, and the almost jukebox-style curation of a flawless soundtrack. There is so much to wax lyrical about. Each performer is so in sync with his part, it feels like it must have been workshopped, but I don’t see how given that the script is basically an epic poem.

Such a special, important piece of writing, and beautifully executed.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Ali Wright


For Black Boys …

Royal Court Theatre until 30th April


Reviewed by Miriam this year:
Moulin Rouge! | ★★★ | Piccadilly Theatre | January 2022
She Seeks Out Wool | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | January 2022
Two Billion Beats | ★★★½ | Orange Tree Theatre | February 2022
The Ballad of Maria Marten | ★★★½ | Wilton’s Music Hall | February 2022


Click here to see our most recent reviews



Southwark Playhouse



Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th May 2019



“a talented cast of young female actors delivered a searching show despite a pedestrian script”


Very often when watching a play, it’s possible to condense the evening down to one emotion. For Oneness at the Southwark Playhouse, that emotion was anger. Emmanuel Akwafo and Liliana Tavares present a talented cast of four female actors for an hour of furious physicality, dance and theatre.

Where the play is advertised as a study of femininity and being female, it’s far more about how race in Britain intersects with femininity. Each character surges with unhappiness and frustration with how they’re treated because of their race which is challenging and stimulating, although the recurring themes do begin to drag towards the end. Interestingly, each character plays the same leitmotif throughout: the desire not to be questioned about her race, her femininity and her choices.

While the themes confront and stimulate the audience, the writing really doesn’t. At times, the script felt nearly parodic with painfully sincere cliches littered throughout simply stating how each woman is beautiful and strong. Chants of “A woman’s mind is her strength” and “Inside each woman, there is something beautiful” were supposed to be deep and moving, but came over lazy and straightforward.

Unfortunately, the cliches don’t stop there. If you were playing Fringe Theatre Cliche Bingo there were at least two more: masks and torches on a dark stage. Of course, directors have been using masks for thousands of years and no one has a trademark on a flashlight up against your face, but when these techniques are used the same way in each production they lose the cleverness and intrigue that once defined them.

The four young actors are there to catch the script and safely lower it to the ground. Their physicality, precision and commitment shine through the text bringing energy, inventiveness and shear strength. It’s clear that ‘sincere anger’ was the direction for almost every scene (apart from one), but the talented quartet mostly brought their own interpretations and give much needed subtly and fragility, especially during the physical sections.

The set was deeply confusing with the chain link fencing at each end of the traverse stage and the looming cubist painting juxtaposed strangely with almost every scene, setting one’s mind to archival art storage. It was only after, when I realised they were using the set from Other People’s Money which is also currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, that it made sense.

Hypnotic bass-heavy music and dimmed lights build quickly from the beginning and then return for each piece of dance delivering a sense of consistent frustration left unrealised. The production elements were overall tight and well thought-through which is always rewarding at the Fringe Theatre level.

Taken together, a talented cast of young female actors delivered a searching show despite a pedestrian script often constructed out of feel-good snippets and baseless cliche. The politics were angry and the messages assertive with each of the female characters delivering a red-misted illustration of how race and gender interlock with these individual women.


Reviewed by William Nash



Southwark Playhouse


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Sweet Science of Bruising | ★★★★ | October 2018
The Trench | ★★★ | October 2018
Seussical The Musical | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Funeral Director | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The Night Before Christmas | ★★★ | November 2018
Aspects of Love | ★★★★ | January 2019
All In A Row | ★★ | February 2019
Billy Bishop Goes To War | ★★★ | March 2019
The Rubenstein Kiss | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Other People’s Money | ★★★ | April 2019


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