Striking performances all round from the cast of Chiaroscuro, the Bush Theatre’s latest 80’s revival. Now firmly established as the National Poet for Scotland, Jackie Kay’s first play must have been a brave endeavour by her younger self. Chiaroscuro (light and dark) still resonates over thirty years later as an ongoing conversation between women of colour from a myriad of backgrounds. The play is a tapestry of moving and hilarious stories centring on Beth (Shiloh Coke) and Opal (Anoushka Lucas) as they fall in love whilst their earnest friend Aisha (Preeya Kalidas) mediates Yomi’s (Gloria Onitiri) vitriolic, homophobic response.
Director Lynette Linton brings Kay’s poetic narratives to a contemporary audience as a ‘gig-theatre event’ making the characters part of a band so that they sing (beautifully) as well as speak about their longings and anxieties. Consequently, there is a lot of charging around in eighties gear, declarations of love and fury, and bursting into soulful song in keeping with the passions of youth.
Of course, there is an immaturity about this political play from a young writer, but far from cringing, it’s refreshingly direct.
Writer Jackie Kay; Director Lynette Linton. Images by Johan Persson left to right: Gloria Onitiri; Shiloh Coke and Anoushka Lucas; Preeya Kalidas.
Kay’s younger self grapples boldly with hidden narratives, not least the experiences of black lesbians and mixed-race children who, once, were far and few and isolated from all sides.
In Chiaroscuro, Kay brings much of the unspoken to the surface with a focus on mental instability arising from pervasive homophobia and the compounding racism towards mixed race children. In Chiaroscuro, these monumental issues are explored with high passion and tons of humour. Kay, Linton and a charismatic cast have rejuvenated a pioneering play which, in the end, is simply enjoyable.
Until 5th October 2019
Bush Theatre, 7 Uxbridge Road, London, W12 8LJ
London Theatre of the Year (The Stage)