This is Black is a festival celebrating the work of four emerging Black playwrights. It is running throughout August at the Bunker Theatre in London Bridge, an intimate venue that champions upcoming and “ambitious” artists. The four plays will run in paired double bills, with an exhibition on display every Sunday. Click here to read our review of Double Bill I.
Double Bill II of the month-long This is Black festival is home to Pyneapple and Teleportation, both of which focus on the vast experiences Black British women face today.
Pyneapple sees friends Maya, Raye, Erycah and Lauryn gather together in Erycah’s family-owned salon, Crowns. The audience’s first impression of them is this: they are witty and relatable, the kind of women who you would want as friends through life’s madness, good and bad.
For black British women, the salon can often represent a safe space where the many facets of black femininity are valued: we feel seen and uplifted whenever we step through the door. But sometimes the foundations of these safe spaces that we build amongst our community are threatened. At Crowns, these threats come in the form of rent increase, looming gentrification and even the problematic opinions of our day ones.
Throughout the piece, characters unpack the ‘angry black woman’, sexuality, colourism and the negative language surrounding black women’s hair.
While serious issues are appropriately portrayed, there is still room for humour. References to the Black zeitgeist like Ovie Soko’s ‘Message!’, the ubiquitous ‘Hot Girl Summer’ and Janelle Monae’s queer anthem Make Me Feel, permeated their way into the script. The strategic use of lighting, flashbacks, spoken word and dance changed up the pace to keep the audience captivated. Melissa Saint and Chantelle Alle of Spyce Collective have created a viewing experience that authentically centres the black British woman of this moment.
The space changes from a salon floor to a dishevelled flat for Teleportation. Here we meet Gary (Lee Ravitz), a white ex-prisoner who falls into isolation as a result of his disability. Enter Anuyin (Antonia Layiwola), his carer assigned to literally pick up the pieces strewn around his flat. Gary is initially confounded by Anuyin’s presence – she is black, thunderously witty and remains formidable in the face of Gary’s ignorance. ‘Why won’t you all leave?’, shouts Gary. Anuyin rebuts, ‘I’m the only one here!’ as she continues to do her job of taking care of him. Meanwhile, their dialogue is punctuated by breaking news bulletins that detail the debut of the pan-African passport to encourage Africans to return to the motherland.
Ronke Adekoluejo’s imagining of this kind of society invokes questions about home and what this means for Black British people today. The parameters of privilege are also explored in Adekoluejo’s writing of these two characters: racial, gender, able-bodied privileges manifest themselves throughout in the dialogue between Gary and Anuyin. It is through their polarised identities that we see them form an unlikely companionship before it comes crashing down at the climax of the narrative.
Traditionally, the theatre format has been catered to the white, middle-class gaze, but Steven Kavuma’s curation has honed works that demonstrate the richness of the Black British experience via raw talent. This is Black runs at the Bunker Theatre until 25th August.