Review by Daz Gale
A new play premieres at London’s Royal Court this week with this one hoping to shed a light on heroes that might not always get their time in the spotlight. Early on in BLACK SUPERHERO, one of the characters, in a self-aware moment, asks where all the Black Queer stories are and comments that these are usually dominated by White stories. This show hopes to right that wrong. With an exciting team on board and an important message to tell, will BLACK SUPERHERO be able to save the day?
BLACK SUPERHERO is the debut play from Danny Lee Wynter, best known as an Oliver award nominated actor. It tells the story of David, also played by Danny, who finds himself haunted by moments from his past and struggles to find his place in an industry that doesn’t take him seriously or give him a platform for his voice to be heard, David has to stop his life spiralling out of control, all the while falling in love with a superhero.
Danny Lee Wynter’s writing is consistently impressive. It is full of naturalistic dialogue that effortlessly transports the audience into the important conversations and debates we find the characters having. Brilliantly witty and laugh out loud funny, the hit rate of hilarious one liners is pretty flawless, with a littering of pop culture references (Tiffanys speech from Big Brother had me howling) used to genius effect. As the show unfolds, the themes get a bit more serious, leading to a truly uncomfortable but impressively written sequence towards the climax of the second act. Raw and unflinching in its approach, it is a brutally honest depiction of a character many will be able to relate to.
Having written the play, Danny Lee Wynter has an impeccable connection to the role of David which he performs with an authenticity you rarely see in a role such as this. Channelling the complexities of the character, he is captivating in his turn as the passionate and opinionated character. From the sweetness and vulnerability he exhibits when he falls in love to harder moments to convey as things begin to fall apart and old demons rear their ugly head again, Danny gives a phenomenal performance full of nuance, showcasing his true versatility as an actor.
Dyllón Burnside makes his London debut as King, the eponymous superhero the whole world has fallen in love with. He plays the role with a confidence that feels befitting of the fictitious star, and exhibits chemistry with his multiple co-stars which makes you understand why everyone loves him. An interview section in the second act gives Dyllón a chance to showcase the complexities of his character as he discusses the merits of whether the world has a right to know about him.
Eloka Ivo gives a memorable performance as Raheem – distinctly different to both David and King, with varying relationships with them both, he steals focus immediately with his strong opinions about what is right and wrong in the community. He maintains this power throughout, even if his presence decreases as the play progresses. Ben Allen raises a smile in his multiple roles of King’s husband and interviewer, showing two very different dynamics with the star, while Dominic Holmes is a comic highlight as Jackson. Ako Mitchell is a late addition to the show but his brief time on stage in the second act as Kweku once again proves what a formidable performer he is. The cast are completed by Rochenda Sandall who is an undoubted highlight as Davids sister Syd, showcasing a beautiful mix of a no-nonsense nature and tender compassion, while getting some of the best lines of the play.
Daniel Evans direction brings the action to life in a fantastic way with a stunning set, designed by Joanna Scotcher, revealing some impressive tricks which transform the set and, in turn, the action. This complements Ryan Day’s lighting design which at times can be intense and at others atmospheric. Blending the worlds of fiction and reality together with dream-like sequences and a tone that can change drastically in an instant may not have been carried out as successfully in another’s hands, but Daniel Evans expert direction pulls this off with ease.
With an incredible cast and fantastic direction, there is much to admire about BLACK SUPERHERO. However, the true star of the piece is the writing and the complex way the themes are played out. Essentially breaking the fourth wall without breaking it, the comment on society for all its faults is instantly relatable and thought provoking in itself. Danny’s writing and lead performance as David is one that will stay with me for a long time in what has to be one of the toughest but most impactful performances I have seen on stage for a long while.
Described as a love letter to theatre, BLACK SUPERHERO does exactly that while shining a light on the industry and society in itself. The questions it asks about celebrity, the stories that are told (and by rights NOT told) and who has the right to play what role lead to a thought-provoking and intense show. Wickedly funny in parts, it can also be incredibly tough to watch at other times but such is the volatile nature of theatre. While the tone of the show changes as it progresses, the one constant is the sheer quality of the production. Capturing your attention immediately and retaining it throughout, there is much to enjoy about this play which proves why stories like this deserve to always be in the spotlight, front and centre.
BLACK SUPERHERO plays at Royal Court until 29th April. Tickets from royalcourttheatre.com
Photos by Johan Persson