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Review: Retrograde (Kiln Theatre)

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Review by Daz Gale

You may have heard the name Ryan Calais Cameron a fair bit lately as his unstoppable play For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy is not just enjoying a West End transfer – but a sold out run at that. After receiving unanimous praise (including a gushing 5 star review from me) hopes were high for the world premiere of his latest play Retrograde. But could this play be befitting to the immeasurable legacy of the actor it is based on?

Retrograde is based on a true event in the life of actor Sidney Poitier. It’s the golden age of Hollywood and he has just been offered a lucrative contract others could only dream of – but it comes at a cost. Throughout the course of this three-hander one act play, we see Sidney attempt to make this tough decision as he figures out how much his integrity and own identity are worth.

Ryan Calais Cameron once again proves what an exceptional writer he takes a real moment in history and expands upon it, dissecting it for all its possibilities. Whether he is writing for Poitier or the two white men who are a reflection of their time with various bursts of dialogue ranging from outdated to offensive. This is very much the intent though and through the writing, we are always on the side of Poitier as he tries to keep cool in the face of a world who wants to paint him as something he is not.

The tone of the writing gradually changes to lighter moments including an opening portion full of laughs to the more serious nature. Towards the final portion of Retrograde there are a couple of incredibly powerful moments led by Ivanno Jeremiah as Sidney. With his talk about the upcoming movement, it is a stark reminder of how attitudes were at those times and painful to think that 70 years later we still have more work to do when it comes to equality. In that respect, the writing manages to be thought provoking and a careful balance of being appropriate for the era while still sounding current -a testament to the genius of the writing. Perhaps there are one or two moments where the writing waivers ever so slightly with overlong conversations that fail to grab but these moment are ever so fleeting and you are guaranteed to be captivated again almost immediately after,

As Sidney Poitier, Ivanno Jeremiah is sensational. No matter how aware you are of Sidney as a person, you truly believe Ivanno becomes him in an authentic portrayal which is consistently impressive to witness. With an effortless ability to command attention even when he is remaining silent, Ivanno gives an assured, confident and charming performance full of versatility as he navigates the complexities of the decision he has to make. A special mention must go to the dialect as he perfectly recreates Sidney’s own distinctive voice.

Daniel Lapaine is brilliantly loathsome as the questionable Mr Parks. As he attempts to manipulate the situation to get what he wants, he delivers a masterclass performance in a role you can’t help but love to hate. While the character itself may elicit groans and even the odd wince at an inappropriate comment, Daniels own performance can’t be faulted. The cast is completed by Ian Bonar who comes and goes as Bobby. While his stage time is limited compared to the others, he makes the most of it with an exaggerated and loud portrayal beautifully channelling the conflicting nature of both his friend and colleague. Delivering three very different performances that gel together to create theatre magic is part of what makes Retrograde so enjoyable.

Amit Sharmas direction makes use of the small and static scene that is Mr Parks office. As characters pace around and even leave the vicinity at one point due to the inspired choice that is the final moment of the show, there is much to love about the execution of the story. Frankie Bradshaws set design perfectly recreates an office of the era while Amy Maes lighting design reveals a great payoff in the shows closing moments.

Proving that For Black Boys… was not a one off, Ryan Calis Cameron is fast becoming a reliable writer, showing a consistent ability to impress with his well thought out, intricate and nuanced writing. Truly captivating in itself, his writing is elevated thanks to a masterclass performance from Ivanno Jeremiah as the legendary Sidney Poitier himself. While they may be big shoes to fill, he does it with ease in a play that never runs short of interesting topics to debate. In the show, Disney may struggle to make his decision about what to do but when it comes to seeing this show, the choice is much easier. Destined to go on to future life, don’t miss out on the opportunity to see this marvellous show at the start of its journey.


Retrograde plays at Kiln Theatre until 27th May. Tickets from

Photos by Marc Brenner



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