REVIEW: CHIAROSCURO (Bush Theatre) ★★★★

This was my first visit to this wonderfully conceived Bush Theatre and there was an energetic feel about the place and a welcomeness that draws you in. I felt the excitement even before the play started. It built once the lights dimmed on the young diverse audience and this beautifully written play unfolded.

Staged in the round, we are interlopers, listening in to the conversations between four young female band members rehearsing in the studio and the tensions quickly emerge between them as they share their inner most thoughts and fears. Its language is at times deliberately shocking and it is these attitudes that divide the four. Just like “Torch Song” at the new Turbine Theatre, this is a play that calls for people to be truthful and authentic about themselves.

Beth is the most certain of herself and her St Vincent roots . She is played by Shiloh Coke, who also wrote the music in the show and plays the drums in the band. She has great comic timing and the show takes off when she meets Opal (Anoushka Lucas). The awkward early exchanges are beautifully played and even continue during the following scene in shy snatched glances between them. It feels believable and truthful but it is the reaction of the other two characters to their love that creates the tension in the band.

Yomi (Gloria Onitiri) is the strong sarcastic authoritative voice, proud of her origins in Nigeria and with a young daughter – who causes the upset as an uncomfortable discussion over dinner explodes with her views on mixed parents and prejudicial language against “unnatural relationships” . It is disturbing to hear this from her but the bluster hides another person. The fourth member of the band is Aisha (Preeya Kalidas) the lead singer who acts as a peacemaker but secretly harbours her own desire for Beth.

Some scenes feel too slow, especially as they rehearse snatches of songs and there is an even feel to the ninety-minute running time but when Beth and Opal are together and when they all finally start to be truthful with each other, the band and the play come together with great effect in a vibrant final song about “knowing we are different from each other”.

The definition of chiaroscuro is the treatment of light and shade in a drawing or painting and Jackie Kay‘s play explores the issues how women of colour are treated differently depending on the shade of their skin. ‘If you’re white, you’re alright, if you’re brown stick around, if you’re black stay back’. The writing is provocative and poetic and captures those feelings of early love, fear of losing someone or being unwanted. Whether you are straight or gay those feelings are similar and therefore this wonderful play resonates with us all while explaining it all from a black female perspective and charming the audience .

Reviewed by Nick Wayne
Photo: Johan Persson

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