Chiaroscuro at Bush Theatre
A simple studio setting hosts the heated debates and musical reasoning of the four protagonists of Chiaroscuro. The new production of Jackie Kay’s theatre piece is bold, with a dynamic pace and a sweet melodic element.
Beth (Shiloh Coke) and Opal (Anoushka Lucas) find in each other a tender lover and a supportive partner. After a while, though, the regular nightmares and the fear of society’s judgment return to destabilise the pair. The major storm occurs during a dinner at Aisha’s (Preeya Kalidas), where Yomi’s (Gloria Onitiri) resolute stances soundly crash against the rest of the party. Questions on identity bounce around in each character’s personal portrayal, the performers taking up the keyboard or the guitar, talking with the audience or amongst themselves. They present gender and love as core themes, but memories and family origin challenge the women in the same measure.
The single act often risks excessively blurring the borders between dialogues and monologue, the material flowing and merging extremely smoothly, one segment into the next. But as the characters and their relationships assume more features, it becomes easier to identify the different threads.
Particular praise goes to the original music, composed by Shiloh Coke and performed live by the cast members themselves. The instrumental parts weave through the words in a soothing way.
The actresses find a good synergy overall. Lucas, whose character appears to be the most insecure and shy, is vigorous in her self-esteem struggles. The interactions and internal fights are charged by her humanity and powerfully express her deep quest for acceptance. The humour of Onitiri is abrasive, matching Coke’s cool approach.
The show falls short of fitting the promotional tagline of “explosive”, but it’s definitely a passionate piece. Queer and mixed-race identities are the major subjects on the table, though there is no direct reference to them or the phobias they cause until over one third through the play. The vulnerability of being somehow a different woman, either for the “unnatural” partner they have chosen or the colour of their skin, is laid open for the audience to peruse and reflect upon. With the gig element bursting open only sporadically, the show unfolds mostly as a stream of consciousness leading us through the past and the present (set somewhere within contemporary times) – with a final treat at the end for all to enjoy.
Photo: Johan Persson
Chiaroscuro is at Bush Theatre from 31st August until 5th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.