Jack Studio Theatre – until 17 November
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu has created a delicious theatrical treat in Sweet Like Chocolate Boy. The lyrical wit and haunting beauty of his writing is accompanied by a nostalgia-fest of music, all overseen by God – the ultimate DJ (Alice Fofana).
Switching back and forth at break-neck speed between the stories of Bounty and Mars, two troubled young black men from the 1990’s and present day respectively, Fynn-Aiduenu weaves a plot that gradually pieces together the threads of each life, peopled with colourful and recognisable characters, to reveal their connection in a dynamic and moving finale.
In the 90’s, Bounty (Michael Levi Fatogun) is struggling to find his place in a politically-charged world. Not fitting in as a child, his best friend is a white boy from a racist family. Bounty just wants to be loved, but doesn’t love himself, and his need to see the best in people leads to tragic results. Bounty witnesses the beginnings of a more organised Black Protest movement but never quite engages. In the present day, Mars (Andrew Umerah) is on his way to a protest march. He should be at a meeting with his mental health nurse, but the lure of Fantasia (Veronica Beatrice Lewis) and her approval if he acts as she demands at the protest is too strong.
This isn’t about gangs, but instead about the ongoing prejudice and injustice that necessitates a Black Protest, and the inner battles faced by these two men – their self-esteem, mental health and search for their identity and purpose in turbulent times. The two actors both perform their many monologues with captivating style – making you laugh and cry as they let Fynn-Aiduenu’s magical words fly. The staging is simple but lit to perfection – with DJ/God directing the action behind her decks/tower blocks. Umerah, Fatogun and Lewis all play multiple roles, just slightly tweaking their costumes between scenes. The three are phenomenal – there is never any confusion as to who they are playing, so good are their different accents and body language. Lewis is hysterical as Sandra, Bounty’s predatory and scary friend, and sweet but strong as his girlfriend Michelle. Umerah’s portrayal of Mars’s mental health problems is stunning, slipping between cocky streetwise laddishness and tormented hallucinations in a heightened but unsettlingly believable manner. Fatogun’s Bounty is so lost that you just want to give him a hug – a beautifully nuanced performance.
Although this is hard-hitting stuff, the play never feels worthy or heavy-handed. There is a lightness of touch and a ridiculous sense of humour that pervades throughout. Fight scenes are choreographed in slow motion, with the actors gurning at the audience, and the cast dance around to the soundtrack of Bounty’s youth with joyous abandon.
Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu is definitely a name to look out for in the future – Sweet Like Chocolate Boy is a heady mix of important issues, gleeful comedy, nostalgia, and banging tunes that will set audiences buzzing.