It's 1955, and rising star Sidney Poitier has dropped into the NBC offices to sign a contract for a TV Movie.

With a meaty part as a dockers' leader fighting bigotry, his friend Bobby's progressive script has career-boosting potential. But before he even enters the room, Daniel Lapaine's manipulative lawyer/fixer Mr Parks is questioning his casting in something "silly liberal" and "trite."

What emerges is a nasty FBI/McCarthyist/media agenda to promote a "palatable," controllable, Black star to quiet the emerging Civil Rights movement.

Ham & High: Ivanno Jeremiah and Daniel Lapaine in Retrograde at Kiln TheatreIvanno Jeremiah and Daniel Lapaine in Retrograde at Kiln Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)

Ivanno Jeremiah's proud, charismatic Sidney is red-baited and threatened with being put on the worst possible list, the "Black, blacklist," unless he signs an oath denouncing politics, and, John Proctor-like, publicly condemns a friend.

Poitier's dilemma raises the question of what you might sacrifice for progressive gain, and while there's no poetry or movement like Ryan Calais Cameron's more expressive For Black Boys..currently running in the West End, this heightened naturalistic, three-guys-in-a-room drama also explores Black masculinity, and the strain of constantly watching what you reveal.

Ham & High: Ivanno Jeremiah in Retrograde at Kiln TheatreIvanno Jeremiah in Retrograde at Kiln Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)

Sidney is an actor, not an activist, but realises just by being Black in a paranoid America that thinks the civil rights movement is a Commie plot, he's unavoidably political. And he uses the roiling anger he's been supressing to make his decision.

Calais' 90-minute drama is talk-heavy, but thanks to crackling, pacy dialogue, swift power shifts, and Jeremiah's powerful, nuanced performance, the focus never flags.

And it's Jeremiah's show; Sid is complex and admirable, while both white guys are 2D. Lapaine's venal Parks is a forerunner to a Trumpian lawyer, as focused on personal financial gain as ideaology.

But Ian Bonnar's Bobby, described in the playtext as a 'liberal, needy, nerdy go-getter,' is worse. Someone who pays lip service to racial justice, but might junk his friend Sid if it harms his career.Ham & High: Retrograde runs at Kiln Theatre until May 27.Retrograde runs at Kiln Theatre until May 27. (Image: Marc Brenner)

It ends with Poitier's Honorary Oscar acceptance speech. We know that he did make Robert Alun Aurthur's A Man Is Ten Feet Tall, and became the first Black actor to win a Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field.

Retrograde pays tribute to his quiet heroism of navigating the racial minefield of America's entertainment industry.

Retrograde runs at Kiln Theatre, Kilburn until May 27.