For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy at Apollo Theatre
After a sold-out season at the Royal Court Theatre, For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy has returned to the West End for a limited season. The play, written by Ryan Calais Cameron, follows six Black men who recount their life experiences through the medium of a group therapy session. It touches on the very obvious theme of suicide, but also the role of these men in their own culture and society as a whole.
From beginning to end, the whirlwind of emotions is so powerful that it is almost impossible to pinpoint a specific moment where the stigma surrounding Black men’s mental health is broken, but much-needed cracks definitely begin to emerge. Directed by Calais Cameron and Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, this production subverts the stereotypes of Black men imposed by society and forces the audience to really challenge their preconceptions.
What’s incredible is that although there isn’t necessarily something for everyone to relate to, there is something for everyone to learn. From the exposition of Black history throughout the show via the character of Obsidian (Aruna Jalloh), the audience learns about the rich history of a people before colonisation. This is just a fragment of such a vast narrative, but it gives pause for thought and contemplation. It also challenges the notion that Black men who are educated are not “neeks”, but aspiring for greatness, like their precolonial counterparts.
The theme of mental health is prevalent throughout – after all, the play takes place within a group therapy session – but the genius behind this setting has to be attributed to both the writer and the actors on-stage. Against a reduced backdrop, there is nothing to distract from the performances, and yet the audience’s attention is fully held by the six men in front of them. This is a testament to the calibre of acting, and the stories that are being told. They range from a roadman in the character of Onyx (Mark Akintimehin), to “leng lighties” Sable (Darragh Hand) and Midnight (Kaine Lawrence), to misfits Obsidian (Jalloh) and Pitch (Emmanuel Akwafo), and finally the masked man who is Jet (Nnabiko Ejimofor). It is almost impossible to believe that, through these six characters, themes including how to approach illness and death, LGBTQIA+ issues, OCD, gang membership, sexual abuse and murder are all covered in only two-and-a-bit hours. However, through comedy and much-needed dance breaks, the heavy burden of such subject matter is taken away from the audience as far as possible.
If there is anything that could have been done better, more room might have been allowed in the first half for the serious and uncomfortable moments to resonate with the audience. As it is, these are often quickly glazed over with funny quips or anecdotes for all to enjoy. It is unclear whether this was purposefully done to highlight the coping mechanisms used by Black men when talking without drawing too much attention about serious problems, but ultimately it does not take away from the richness of the show. One needs only to pay attention.
This is an essential piece of theatre – there is no doubt about that. Everything fits together like a perfectly oiled machine: the nostalgic music, the stories that sound familiar (even though they may not have been experienced by the audience) and the raw, guttural exclamation throughout that this is for Black boys who have considered suicide. This has been written for them; it affirms their existence, even when others may seek to silence them. It is poignant and beautiful that the show ends with two key phrases: “If you can stand to wait, the moment will pass” and, more importantly, “Your life matters.”
For Black Boys who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is at Apollo Theatre from 25th April until 7th May 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: