BLACK SUPERHERO is a stunning debut for ‘Normal Heart’s’ Oliver-award nominated actor Danny Lee Wynter, whose original script presents a funny and unflinching view on representation in the arts, gay black identity and desire.
David (Wynter) is some way from where he hoped in life as a man approaching 40. A single, out-of-work actor, he’s living off his sister Syd’s couch and cosplaying as Peppa Pig for kids parties on weekends. Insecurity is only sharpened by actor friends Raheem (Eloka Ivo) and King (Dyllón Burnside), two attractive black men boasting IMDb pages as hench as they are.
Most eye-wateringly for David, King has recently sprung to mega-stardom after bagging the lead role in ‘Craw Control’, a batman-esque global franchise soon to begin its press tour down under. Yet as King’s glamorous career spins further from his friend’s reality, he suddenly becomes accessible in a new way – thanks to recently ‘open’ terms to his marriage and a secret long-standing attraction.
So begins a heady romance which spirals from London to Bondi, blurring reality with the fantastical as David’s infatuation grows. There’s clever juxtaposition between tender, graphic love scenes and debates around critically acclaimed gay romance stories – (too earnest! too safe-for-work! David protests, in thinly veiled references to ‘Moonlight’ ). Subtle performances and careful movement direction from Gerrard Martin explore the power of nudity to both intimidate, humiliate and disarm, placing pillow talk and pube-forensics alongside genuinely shocking moments.
A vehement activist himself, there’s always the threat of Wynter turning overly-sanctimonious, however this a criticism for which David takes the fall. It adds a richness to the dialogue that the protagonist errs towards self-righteousness in his defence of artistic representation, inviting spirited criticism from his consciously apolitical friends. In particular, King’s apathy prompts considered debate on the moral obligation to champion one’s community, involving one especially toe-curling interview with a reporter who moralises his privacy around his love life.
In one of life’s circular moments, the staging at the Royal Court returns Wynter to his theatre roots, where he first began his career as an usher. The staging is stripped-back and bleak, relying largely on neon light and swirling smoke to fold reality into fantasy, often juxtaposing comic scenes against a foreboding backdrop. Some transitions feel jarring – levitating apparitions of Syd and Craw dim the play’s emotional impact and under-deliver on comic relief, for instance. But jabs at Jada Pinkett Smith’s ‘Red Table Talks’ flow seamlessly into contemplation of Voltaire, and a waterfall of sand perfectly underscores a cathartic break-point.
Arbitrary changes of tone and direction can make BLACK SUPERHERO feel disjointed, and it ultimately bites off more than it can chew in a two-hour runtime. More importantly, its unpredictability makes it an exciting, thought provoking production with a rare novelty for the London theatre scene. It’s bold, ambitious, and heavy on the lycra, firmly marking Wynter as a writer to watch in his next regeneration.
BLACK SUPERHERO runs until 29 April 2023 at The Royal Court Theatre.
To discover more, visit: royalcourttheatre.com
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Imagery courtesy of Johan Persson.