Black Superhero at the Royal Court Theatre
Written by Danny Lee Wynter, who also plays the main character, Black Superhero is an evocative and powerful story in which themes of love, friendship, identity, race, queerness and sexuality intertwine and inform each other. If the disjointed narrative and writing can at times cause confusion, the acting, funny and witty one-liners, stage design and final emotional climax show enormous potential.
The protagonist, David, is a queer black actor who is walking on the unsteady ground of a mid-life crisis: he dreams of becoming Hamlet but is instead auditioning for the part of Horatio. David is trying to piece his life together, going to therapy and relying on the emotional (and financial) support of his sharp-tongued, younger sister (Rochenda Sandall). David and his friends, all fellow performers, are drinking, arguing and chatting outside a club, when the superstar of the group, King, announces that he and his white husband are now in an open relationship. King is the black superhero: he gained fame by playing a Marvel-esque character, Craw, in a film franchise. He is confident and suave on the one hand, but also riddled with doubts and anxieties when it comes to publicly talking about his personal life.
When King and David turn their friendship into a more complex, sexual one, things start changing for the latter. He is overtaken by his insecurities, stemming from a deeply rooted longing for the love and safety that he did not receive and experience in his childhood, particularly from his father. It is not surprising that the man with a traumatic past, who dreams of being rescued, finds himself falling in love with the confident and hyper-masculine superhero, who, however, cannot provide the warm love David so craves.
Wynter manages to paint a realistic and compelling portrait of an artistic friend group: they all have different opinions and are all trying to wade through the murky waters of a difficult industry, achieving different levels of success. They all have some feelings of not-too-veiled jealousy for one another, being in open, amiable competition. However, some of the dialogues between them often seem to serve the only purpose of adding more threads to an already rich and crowded tapestry, showcasing a plethora of diverse perspectives, without helping progress the story. The play would have had more depth if those moments had been counterbalanced by a deeper dive into Daniel’s psyche, which only comes towards the end.
Director Daniel Evans and production designer Joanna Scotcher deserve a special mention for the cinematically striking moments they crafted together, with triangular neon structures signalling the beginning of a superhero fantasy, for instance, and masked characters suspended mid-air. The play, in fact, seems particularly alive in those liminal areas between fantasy and reality, from an enchanting sand cascade to an equally powerful and hilarious scene when David is asking for advice from two characters from one of King’s movies.
Despite its flaws, overall this is a fully alive and pulsating story, with superb acting, design and writing that shows great potential and promise.
Black Superhero is at the Royal Court Theatre from 16th March until 29th April 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.