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Review -Ryan Calais Cameron's For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

"Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s seminal work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf. For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy is located on the threshold of joyful fantasy and brutal reality: a world of music, movement, storytelling and verse – where six men clash and connect in a desperate bid for survival. Father figures and fashion tips. Lost loves and jollof rice. African empires and illicit sex. Good days and bad days. Six young Black men meet for group therapy, and let their hearts – and imaginations – run wild." Excerpt from Press Release

Review by Esther Austin: What can I say? This production was absolutely brilliant - the acting, the music, the setting, the narrative, the messages, the humour, the way the performances illicited so many emotions from the audience - because culturally they got it. This play was a wonderful potpourri of real life experiences and challenges that black boys face and endured from being misunderstood, misrepressented, misinformed, not feeling part of family, community, society. What I particularly loved about this production was that it didn't use the same stereotypical examples that are often portrayed about black boys whether in the media, by society and sometimes even within the community, but it was gently hard hitting, without striking a punch and drew on a real life - 'down the Rabbit Hole' lens of the many different aspects and angles of situations that affect black boys.

The Play a disected i.e family dynamics, the father-son relationship, family abuse (one of the boys lost his virginity to an aunt), police brutality, racism - in school, on the streets, in the work place etc and how these formative encounters reflected and affected their relationships with how they saw themselves and their interaction with those around them and also their so called 'intimate' relationships. However, paradoxically, what came through was that young men want to be loved and acknowledged and seen just like everyone else. There was a longing to be released from any judgement, to want and desire and experience this. They wanted their father's acknowledgement, they wanted to experience true authentic love and they just wanted to be seen and acknowledged as human beings.

There was also the involvement of being part of a gang or with their 'boys'. This really highlighted the illusion of feeling part of something that identified them to their 'manhood', adopting a sense of belonging, which also meant they they felt they needed to deny their true feelings, wants and desires in order to prove they were tough and also the need to trust for many of these boys, that trust had been broken time and time again.

The play also honed in on one of the things men generally are often accused of and that is lack of communication or not being able to communicate effectively, or even to be in touch with their feelings and emotions. Men are often bought up to be strong and to not cry nor express how they really feel and the play showed how detrimental that was. So it was healing in itself, to see the actors talk, share, express and in that process one could see an unravelling of the years and years of 'trauma/stuff/challenges' surface on stage, and in those moments, I felt many in the audience were able to further identify themselves through these experiences. And yet, this all bought about a 'brotherhood' of emotive realisations for the young men, a place where they could argue, fight, reason, laugh, in a 'brotherhood' of community they developed amongst themselves, because they felt that there was no place else to go. The many poignant moments were felt as the audience hushed themselves into a focussed silence, because this play was momumental not only because of the subject matter but also as so richly stated here:

Ryan Calais Cameron, playwright and Nouveau Riche Artistic Director, said: "A West End transfer of For Black Boys, will be a momentous occasion for my community and those who have taken the show into their hearts. We really hope this show will drastically change the commercial theatre landscape by ensuring theatre is for everyone and reflects our society; we could not have gotten this far without the immense support of our advocates and audiences.”

In between the deep conversations about the circumstances that framed their lives the play was richly interspersed with so many moments of belly aching laughter and giggles. Some of the jokes were young men jokes, bad boy jokes, and then there were those incredibly funny moments where life experiences, from a culturally colloquial perspective were captured which had the audience laughing and 'brap, brap, brapping' because they just got it. Those moments were like being at a house party with your aunties and uncles talking about the good old days, seated around the table with some good soul food and music playing in the background. The play was also a wonderful cultural connector. Initially one could feel a sense of anticipation in the auditorium as we waited for the show to begin and once it started the audience were fully engaged from start to finish. There was so much relevance here - the music was a major connection, the colloquial sayings, the general narrative was a cultural melting pot that practicually everyone could relate to. Even those who were not 'black', (this was a story about cultural, sociaetwere fully engaged in an immersive experience that was about representation, relevance, owning and telling a message that needed to be told and about solutions.

I saw men and women shed tears, a reinforcement of the reflective and collective unification of a group of people who needed a cathartic pillow to release into and that is what 'For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy' commanded. The silence often meant that the audience 'got it' because they had lived it or knew someone who had lived it. The play evoked a sense of togetherness, belonging, understanding because maybe finally 'their story' - the story of 'the black boy' was being told the way it needed to be in order for reconcilation into and healing of self, back into the 'I AM', the integration back into 'somewhere safe and culturally understood' could happen. Where black boys didn't need to feel the despair and beckoning arms of suicide, in order to be heard or for their souls to find peace. I've always said and will keep saying that it's time for us to bring back the village.

"It takes a Village to Raise a Child"

"The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth"

African Proverbs

'For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy' is a definite MUST SEE


Originally commissioned by New Diorama Theatre and co-commissioned by Boundless Theatre, the West End production is presented by the Royal Court Theatre, Nica Burns, New Diorama Theatre and Nouveau Riche. The full cast of Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh and Kaine Lawrence return to make their West End debuts. The play was originally conceived by Ryan Calais Cameron in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013 and has been developed over the course of the last decade with young black men and mental health groups. It was recently nominated for two Olivier Awards, including Best New Play and Best Actor in a Supporting Role, for which the entire cast was nominated.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy plays the Apollo Theatre for a stricty limited season until 7 May.

Apollo Theatre

Shaftesbury Avenue London W1D 7EZ

Show Times Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm Sunday, 7pm Saturday, 2.30pm Sunday, 2pm

Running Time 2hrs 35 mins including interval

Box Office

Booking Line: 0330 333 4809

Group Bookings: 0330 333 4817 |

Access Bookings: 0330 333 4815 | Tickets from £15 and under available for community groups

Standard Tickets: £15, £20, £35, £49.50, £69.50 (Premium)

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