Writer & Director: Tristan Fynn-Aidu-enu
Reviewer: James McColl
London, the early Nineties. Black British culture is a dominant part of mainstream culture, with garage, jungle and soul music bubbling under the surface of the capital. Sweet Like Chocolate Boy, the latest play from writer & director Tristan Fynn-Aidu-enu, is a coming-of-age story spanning multiple decades and generations. Two young black boys, separated by time, grow up on the same estate in a London borough tower-block. Bounty (Michael Levi Fatogun) is quiet, introverted and forever questioning his own identity. Mars (Andrew Umerah) is in many ways his antithesis, outward going, confrontational and street-smart. As the stories of Bounty and Mars collide, their struggle for identity in an ever-changing Britain becomes the struggle of life and death against the backdrop of the Black British protest movement.
At the end of his life, Bounty is forced to relive it by God (Alice Fofana), the ever-present DJ. As Bounty skips from one important moment to the next, she interrupts with tunes and dance numbers – all of which are very welcome. The problem for Bounty is, in his words, he doesn’t know how to be black. He feels alienated from the emerging Black British scene. To say this show is pure nostalgia would be doing it a grave disservice (though it doesn’t shy away from it). Sweet Like Chocolate Boy uses the historical violence and political happenings of the Nineties to make very important points and relevant comparisons with today as well as showing the generational impact of violence and racism. Often, the male identity is in crisis. Although a cast of both men and woman, the focus is predominately on male characters and the dissection of toxic misplaced male power.
The stage design (Tara Usher), sound (Shade Joseph) and lighting (Bethany Gupwell) play such an integral role in the success of this piece that it needs mentioning. A story that can be so ugly at times never looked and sounded so beautiful on stage – choreographed to perfection by movement director Sean Graham. Underneath the gloss of the production lays the casts powerful performances, note-perfect – Veronica Beatrice Lewis often leading the charge.
One criticism might be of the overabundance of characters divvied out to three cast members, but this would undermine the larger impact of the piece which stitches a complex tapestry of intergenerational narratives that crosses many lives, with each puzzle piece slowly unfolding to further the narrative. It works.
Never does the play shy away from confronting the hatred bubbling under the surface that so many individuals are consumed by. In its critiques of the Black British Protest movement, the daily struggle of black communities facing not only institutional racism but funding cuts shows why individuals can become twisted versions of themselves. It is a play swamped with melancholy and urgency and sorely needed in these trying times.
Reviewed on 3 July 2019 | Image: Contributed