REVIEW: Black Superhero at The Royal Court Theatre






As a writers theatre, The Royal Court consistently programmes exciting new work showcasing the voices of artists who come at the world with perspectives of our current social climate with honesty and an intention to challenge the comfort of our moral compasses. Black Superhero, written by Danny Lee Wynter and directed by Daniel Evans, continues this legacy with humour, heart and a really fun soundtrack.

Black Superhero is a charming dark comedy centring around David (Danny Lee Wynter), a 38-year-old black gay man loosely holding onto dreams of becoming a successful actor and finding love. The problem is, David works for his kid sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall) children’s party company, lives with her and her partner, is single and struggling to move through past trauma about his dad from when he was young. It was never his intention to end up here at this point in his life and as a man who is not shy to strike up a debate about the role of a black man with a platform, he feels like he does not have one of his own to promote. Meanwhile, his group of friends are moving on with their lives professionally and with confidence. Raheem (Eloka Ivo) has a moderate film career brewing and King (Dyllón Burnside) who is married to travel writer Stevie (Ben Allen), is basking in the success of the Marvel-like superhero franchise he is starring in called Craw. The show opens with David’s pessimistic acceptance of this reality as he, Syd, King and Raheem drunkenly banter outside a club after a big night. However, when King announces that he and Stevie are in an open relationship, David’s life is disrupted and teased by the prospects of sex and fame that he had given up hope for. In a private moment, King makes a move on David and sweeps him into a delusional love thus making him question who he is and what he wants.

There are many themes introduced in this work such as being a black gay role model, masculinity, mental health, family, fame, sex and monogamy. Not all aspects of this ambitious text are given the time to be fully fleshed out and the heavier themes are generally treated with a light touch due to the comic nature of the work, however, towards the end of the play are some powerful moments that sit with more gravitas and are able to quiet the laughter of the audience.

Monogamy is one of the themes that does get more air time. Generally speaking there is the complexity involved for a couple choosing to become open as there is with the navigation needed by the person entering into the dynamic of an existing relationship. Why do it? For David, it is partly a fantasy he believes can save him. King is literally a superhero on screen as Craw and in life as a charismatic celebrity and friend. In sequences parodying superhero tropes, David has visions of Craw, hero-worshipping him as both a lover and father figure. The question arises through David’s superhero obsession, why do we form the attachments we do? This relates to David’s infatuation with King and to his trauma around the violent phantom figure of his and Syd’s father who sits differently in each sibling’s memory. Messaging in the work suggests, even if the love we receive is not ideal, it’s still love and can serve a purpose. Perhaps, the play lets us know that we do not need to apologise for our attachments but grow to grow from them.

The ensemble as a whole are strong, full of energy and keeps a pace that makes the play feel like it is over in the blink of an eye. Pop culture references are spitballed between them in a blink-or-you-miss-it fashion giving the work a contemporary and accessible framework. Each actor finds the honesty, ego and integrity needed to bring their vibrant characters to life. In particular, Sandall powerfully stands out as the only female voice on the stage. Dominik Holmes who morphs between the Twink and Jackson, Kings PR in Australia, brings an added element of comic relief to an already humorous show and as an Australian myself who has beard witness to some awful Australian accents on stage, I was impressed with his. Allen also gets a positive mention on this point.

Movement director Gerrard Martin assists the work so that it is able to embody a world that sits between fantasy, celebrity and human existence and sound designer Iain Syme offers a playlist and atmosphere that sits comfortably in the action while also making you want to dance in your seat at times.

Joanna Scotcher’s design and lighting design from Ryan Day is also an element that needs to be commended with an expanding and contracting illuminated diamond, that frames the stage and dances with the action and tension of the performance.

Black Superhero provides laughs and moments of heart that resonate although, not all conflicts provoked are resolved. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, that’s life. There is so much more to talk about once the show is over.

Black Superhero plays at the Royal Court from March 16 to April 29.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Circle A11 | Price of Ticket: £12 – £49

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