Black Love: Unbeatable musical an ode to home and heritage

Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) in Black Love

Nicholle Cherrie as Roo and Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) in Black Love - Credit: Camilla Greenwell

Black Love 
Kiln Theatre
****

Co-produced by Paines Plough and British-African theatre company Tiata Fahodzi, Black Love has a rich mix of creative inputs, with music from Olivier-nominated sound duo Ben and Max Ringham and a book and lyrics brought to life by Chinonyerem Odimba – also the show’s director.

The result is an explosive, avant-garde, post-feminist, post-modern musical that ceaselessly challenges preconceptions about Black women’s bodies through a medley of kitchen sink scenes and provocative monologues – the monologues are sung – accompanied by a dizzying soundtrack of R&B, smooth soul and the occasional cacophonous expressionist explosion.

Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) in Black Love

Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) in Black Love - Credit: Camilla Greenwell

If this sounds over-loaded, the narrative is clear: Aurora "Roo" (Nicholle Cherrie) and her brother Orion (Nathan Queeley-Dennis) share a flat gifted to them by their father following their mother’s untimely death.

The pair are as devoted to each another as they are to their mother’s ideals – to honour their heritage and stay close. But Roo struggles to balance activism and spiritualism with her hedonistic lifestyle, while Orion, an aspiring actor, craves success but can’t live with the moral compromises it seems to entail.

Odimba’s writing has an engaging dry wit. In the opening scene, the ideological conflict between the siblings sees Roo singing a song about her vagina – listing its affectionate nicknames – while her noise-besieged brother attempts to practice for an audition.

Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) and Beth Elliott (Lois) in Black Love.

Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) and Beth Elliott (Lois) in Black Love. - Credit: Camilla Greenwell

Cramped urban living conditions are an ongoing problem: Orion meets Lois (Beth Elliott), a white girl, at a club and starts an intense relationship. Roo is rattled by Lois’s appropriation of their culture and their flat, even wearing their mother’s vibrant West Indian clothes.

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With such dense material, characters risk becoming representations of viewpoints. Nathan Queeley-Dennis finds impressive depth despite that, and Nicholle Cherrie is mesmerizing, particularly in trance-dance mode.

Lois ticks every wicked white girlfriend stereotype but Beth Elliott shades in the clichés with some spot-on faux West Indian posturing. Choreography is superb: at times mystical, at other times joyful and affectionately ironic. Verbatim sourced definitions of Black love framework the play and echo round the theatre and as an ode to home and heritage, Black Love is unbeatable.

Nicholle Cherrie (Roo) and Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) in Black Love

Nicholle Cherrie (Roo) and Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) in Black Love - Credit: Camilla Greenwell

Black Love is at the Kiln Theatre until April 23.