Tag Archives: Ryan Calais Cameron

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


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Queens of Sheba

VAULT Festival

Queens of Sheba

Queens of Sheba

The Vaults

Reviewed – 31st January 2019



“the piece resounds with leitmotifs and slogans that, though memorable, threaten to drown out the subtler refrains that form the crux of the subject matter”


The theatre company ‘Nouveau Riche’, which won The Stage Edinburgh Award for its production of “Queens of Sheba”, present quite vital theatre that is stripped back visually but rich in words that quite often dazzle with their pin-sharp focus. Now at the VAULT Festival for a limited run, “Queens of Sheba” tells stories of racism and misogyny from the perspective of four passionate Black Women. The capital letters are intentional – lifted from the programme notes – but are they really necessary? The message is surely powerful enough in its own right, without the need for the upper-case emphasis.

Based on the poetry of Jessica L Hagan and adapted for the stage by Ryan Calais Cameron, the piece resounds with leitmotifs and slogans that, though memorable, threaten to drown out the subtler refrains that form the crux of the subject matter. You need to read beyond the headline grabbing soundbites to realise that there is a more complicated story. Initially it feels like a bit of a tirade replete with sweeping stock phrases, but these are, in fact, quite moving, individual stories.

On a bare stage the four performers; Rachel Clarke, Jacoba Williams, Koko Kwaku and Veronica Beatrice Lewis, speak alone, speak in chorus, sing, rap and harmonise with an “all for one and one for all” attitude. Their tales are told with witty self-deprecation. Stories from the office workplace, a disastrous first date and from the queue outside a London nightclub – the latter based on a real incident when they were refused entry to the club for being “too black”. It brings home the truth that issues of racism are not black and white, but have many shades.

For the majority of the audience, though, it does feel like the ‘Queens of Sheba’ are preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of entertainment value. The close-knit choreography defines the unison of these four girls, complemented by the tight harmonies when they burst into a cappella song; and peppered throughout are some delightful comedy moments that give a refreshing nod and a wink to the polemic. There is a particularly pertinent impersonation of a white man’s stumbling malapropisms on his first date with an “exotic” girlfriend.

In a limited time, much ground is covered, but inevitably much is left out too. Both its strength and its weakness. After an hour a kind of relentlessness sets in, like a slam poet who outstays his welcome. But at the same time, we do still want, and need, to hear more from these extraordinary women. This is an emotionally charged piece of theatre that is undeniably urgent.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard


Vault Festival 2019

Queens of Sheba

Part of VAULT Festival 2019




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