a fiercely lovable musical about race and romance

Yoni. Lady V. Love tunnel. “Our pussyhole will be our temple,” sings Aurora, in rapturous celebration of the joy, power and beauty of black womanhood. This musical, written and directed by Chinonyerem Odimba and composed by Ben and Max Ringham, is upfront and intimate: a gorgeous paean to black love – sensual, social, personal, familial and ancestral – that proudly honours the feminine.

The tunes are a swirl of R&B, soul and funk, and Odimba’s text and lyrics ooze wit and warmth. There’s hurt and anger here, too. But the show is a thing of beauty, playful and poetic, gliding between the spiritual and the raw, street-level daily reality.

Aurora, or Roo for short (Nicholle Cherrie) lives with her brother, Orion (Nathan Queeley-Dennis) in a London flat their father bought for them. They’re both named after constellations; since their mum died, they’ve taken comfort in memories of their parents’ love for one another, and in imagining her somewhere in the heavens.

Nicholle Cherrie (Roo) and Nathan Queeley-Dennis (Orion) in Black Love (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

While night owl Roo finds freedom and connection on the dancefloor, Orion is trying to forge an acting career, but is constantly wounded and frustrated by the roles he’s offered: villains, criminals, servants.

He meets Lois (Beth Elliott), a white woman, there’s an instant spark, and they become a couple. Lois reckons she can make her new man a success: just suck up the offensive stereotyping for now, she blithely counsels, and better stuff will come. Their relationship drives a sharp wedge between the siblings, and suddenly, the place they live together no longer feels like home.

Richard Kent’s in-the-round design features a turntable, a vinyl collection and clusters of white speakers; as the story unwinds, these come to represent the boxes in which Roo and Orion feel confined by white assumptions and expectations.

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Celise Hicks’s choreography is graceful, undulating, and Odimba’s writing flows from verse to staccato dialogue, expanding and contracting, as if shifting between the peace and harmony of the private space, and the tension of the public. She’s caustically penetrating on Lois’s microaggressions and gross insensitivities.

Excruciatingly, Lois regards her connection with a black man as an opportunity for self-improvement. Moving into the flat uninvited is, as Roo tartly points out, classic colonialism, and her efforts to add “spice” to her life by emulating black style, language and tastes are culturally appropriative – “Rachel Dolezal-itis”. As Roo and Orion wrestle with their loyalties, they begin to question, too, the marriage of the parents they’ve idealised.

There’s no neat resolution: instead, the piece leaves us tangled in life’s authentic messiness. But it generates a glow of strength and devotion that feels jubilant and intensely moving: fiercely lovable.

To 23 April, Kiln Theatre

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