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He’s Not Black

Tuesday, 24 August, 2010

London Festival Fringe – The White Bear Theatre Club – 23 & 29 Aug – 19:30 (1:45)

It’s New Years Eve 2008, Barack Obama is about to be sworn in as the first black president of the United States, and four friends are out celebrating the holiday in style at a local night club.  For Jeremy (James Hamilton), a notorious drug dealer, it’s a chance for one more night of freedom.  In forty-eight hours, he will stand trial for possession of drugs with intent to sell, after having been handed in to the police by his best friend Leon (Wayne Joseph).  It’s also Jeremy’s opportunity to keep an eye on Leon’s movements.  Leon owes Jeremy a favour for his role in a previous crime, and Jeremy has convinced him to lie under oath on his behalf.  For Jennifer (Catherine Ashton) and Olivia (Teraiś Latore), wealth management advisors from the City, it’s a chance to drown their sorrows on the brink of financial and professional disaster.  As the evening wears on and the drugs and alcohol flow freely, the group discuss the effect that their race, gender, and class have had on their lives.  If a black man can become President of the United States, reasons Leon, then anything is possible.  ‘He’s not even black’, muse the others in turn, sparking a debate on what it is that defines race in modern Britain.

Set and costume design are appropriate for the piece.  Olivia’s red mini dress, gold shoes and belt, together with Jennifer’s black jumpsuit and accessories lend to the party atmosphere, as does the addition of the roped-off VIP area.  However, sound design detracts from the action.

Although ‘He’s Not Black’ is set in a night club, it is not necessary for dance music to be played continuously as a reinforcement of this setting.  Instead, it makes it difficult to concentrate on the script.  Likewise, the sound is used too often to stress the mood, when the acting and script should be sufficient.  Employing the use of fade in and out would have been better.

The cast of ‘He’s Not Black’ work well together as a company and are fully committed to their roles.  Wayne Joseph, in particular, turns in an emotional performance which captures well his character’s inner turmoil.  But the script and direction by Chima Nsoedo need more work.  At an hour and forty-five minutes in length without an interval, the play is too long with repetitive themes, and it fails to hold attention until the end.  Although a great deal is being said about race, the majority of it is clichéd without new insight.  There’s a mixed race woman struggling with her identity, a black woman trying to find her place in a predominantly white industry, a black man dealing drugs because he can’t find a better way to get himself out of poverty, and a young black man trying to better his situation at any cost.  These are familiar character types, and despite numerous plot twists and turns, their actions are highly predictable.  The characters presented are also not written as sympathetic, and because of this it’s difficult to maintain interest in their predicaments.

Additionally, some of the humour borders on offensive and ‘He’s Not Black’ is therefore not recommended for the faint of heart.  Jeremy states, at one point, that when he ‘fu*ks white women, he gives it to them hard to get back at them for slavery’.  Lines like this are uncomfortable, but if they are necessary within the greater framework and message of the play, they can be justified.  As written, they seem to serve no purpose other than shock value.

Cast CreditsCatherine Ashton – Jennifer.  James Hamilton – Jeremy.  Wayne Joseph – Leon.  Teraiś Latore – Olivia.

Company Credits:  Writer/ Director/ Producer – Chima Nsoedo.  Production Designer – Laurence Webb. Lighting/ Stage Management – Ross Pomfret. Sound Engineer – Daniel Vieco. Producer – James Hamilton. Producer/ Assistant Director – Fiona Bines. Assistant Director – Diana Mumbi.

(c) Megan Hunter 2010

reviewed Monday, 23 August

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