‘Chiaroscuro’ review – Lynette Linton directs a queer cultural phenomenon

Linton transforms Jackie Kay’s poetic script into a spectacle that is as much a soulful music concert as it is a lively piece of theatre – ★★★★★

Sweat director Lynette Linton’s first play as the Bush Theatre’s Artistic Director was always going to be a much anticipated theatrical event. The fact that it was to explore the often under-represented experiences of queer, black women made it unmissable.

Kay’s play from 1986 follows four friends – Beth, Opal, Aaisha and Yomi – each searching for answers around a particular aspect of their identity, represented by specific props. When they all meet at a party thrown by Aaisha, tensions rise as Yomi disapproves of Beth and Opal’s relationship.

The emotions are underpinned by a free-flowing score by Shiloh Coke, who also plays Beth in this latest adaptation with conviction and a precise sharpness. As Yomi’s racism and homophobia becomes apparent at the party, Beth’s retorts are a powerful defence of identity. Consider this alongside an impressive musical performance, and a string of roles in striking plays such as Emilia, Misty and Small Island, and Shiloh Coke is unstoppable.

As Beth’s partner Opal, Anoushka Lucas channels moving vulnerability as she looks into her prop, a cracked mirror. Her conversations around erasure and validity in terms of her sexuality feel all too current now. With instruments and dialogue merging together on a recording studio style set, her story comes with added delicacy, as Opal moves more towards softer piano chords and guitar melodies as opposed to the tight rhythms of the drums which are adopted by Beth. Each character has their own developments – some, such as Yomi’s, coming later in the piece and left somewhat sudden and unexplained – beautifully and individually soundtracked. So, when they all come together at the end of this 85-minute piece, the resulting harmonies are astonishing.

Chiaroscuro is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 5 October.

Production Images: Johan Persson.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Chiaroscuro for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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