Sweet Like Chocolate Boy fizzes with the energy of a promised revolution, packed with music from the 90’s DJ’d by God herself. I was properly excited to find the play list from the play on Spotify – what a brilliant idea, I listened to a few tracks before going to the theatre; from Garage to Jungle to R and B.
The play celebrates, unpacks and weaves threads of lyrical stories around politically charged Black British culture in London in the 90’s. Linking roles taken in the spirit of protest to prophets of the past and exploring how the political messages can land in the human world. The cast of four, with three of the actors playing more than characters each, slipping through fantasy and reality as they are interwoven in the past and present, sometimes means it can be tricky to work out where we actually are in the story, sometimes it doesn’t matter – being in the heart of the music, movement and ever changing moment of the performance is enough.
The language was beautifully poetic and mashed up with words from London streets, council estates and real lives. This is my favourite kind of writing, it made me want to read the script as words poured so fast on the stage, occasionally I wanted to hit pause and rewind, to catch the musicality of the script again.
Jade Hackett played the characters of Fantasia, Sandra, Michelle, Nurse, with the smallest of changes to her physicality and the characters she shifted between could be repulsed by each other and yet they all came from her. Equally, Michael Levi Fatogun and Bernard Mensah morphed from sons to fathers, policeman to victim within seconds.
The scenes and character changes came fast like thunder and lightening and the stories told were devastatingly dark and I could see the truth of police brutality, targeting young black men, ignorance and racism -the performers delivered them with intertwining dance and music throughout, their physicality bringing layers of unexpected humour. Laughter bubbled at the crassness of Sandra (Jade Hackett) pissing in the street with Bounty (Michael Levi Fatogun) getting entranced with the glimpse of her vagina ‘pink as the sky is blue’.
This felt like an important play standing in the heart of Black British culture, going deeper into the nuances of racism than I usually see on the stage. Complex relationships, fathers acting with a violence, which the sons that they protect don’t understand; husbands leaving through the burden of shame they carry from the society they live in; childhood friends unable to separate their individuality from their families’ patterns of behaviour. Layers upon layers upon layers in this story. At times I would have liked the narration that each character delivered alongside their dialogue to be given to an actual narrator, or the third person dialogue to be maybe cut down a little, but overall Sweet Like Chocolate Boy felt vital, raw and devastatingly true.
Sweet Like Chocolate Boy plays at Tobacco Factory Theatre until 6th July
Image by Robert Sloetry, with thanks