“BLACKTA: noun/blak-ta/a bloody good black actor"
David Lan, the artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre, directs this world premiere of Blackta by new writer Nathaniel Martello-White. Although best known for his work as an actor, Martello-White was determined to challenge and change the perception of black actors in this fresh piece of new writing. Focusing on how limiting the job opportunities are for ethnic minorities, he raised a sensitive issue that is rarely assessed on both stage and screen.
The cast consists of Howard Charles, Daniel Francis, Javone Prince (best known to TV audiences as Jerwayne in E4’s hit comedy PhoneShop), Anthony Welsh, Leo Wringer and newcomer Michael Oku. Not only does Blackta have a strong yet small cast, the stage designer Jeremy Herbert (who also worked on the first productions of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed and 4.48 Psychosis at the Royal Court) has created a simple but effectively modern set. With no massive set to distract from the slick script, Herbert has simply created a stairway to a nerve-wracking audition room where the characters perform party tricks in an attempt to get the job as “the main ting”.
The satirical format of the piece cleverly highlights issues that Martello-White wishes to address whilst keeping the audience thoroughly entertained. In a discussion about his own experiences of auditioning and how he would see the same actors over and over again, Michael Oku said to Sky News, “We’re very different, the only thing we have in common is that we’re black.”
The idea that two completely different people are auditioning for the same role is brought up in extremes in Blackta as ‘Older Black’, an older man who has been trying for over 10 years, is sent to audition for the same part as young men such as ‘Brown’. The main characters have names based on their complexions, ‘yellow’, ‘black’, ‘younger black’, ‘dull brown’, ‘brown’ and ‘older black’, exploring how someone’s life is completely chanced by their ethnicity whilst also giving the feel that the events in the play happen universally.
For all the drama students and professional performers out there, this play is not to be missed. It pretty much sums up your training and what happens after:
“but dis ting- it takes over you man- consumes you- It gets to you- and you feel tired. –that tiredness is the beginning of the depression- when you start losing hope- start forgetting who you are- what you are- what you first came in with- that shining light- that joy- they take it brov- they take that- and then they leave you empty.”
As I’m currently in training I was sat on The Edge of my seat nodding away and agreeing with everything, remembering classes where there had been tears and breakdowns, but funny enough thinking there’s nothing in the world that would stop me from putting myself through such classes to then enter an even tougher industry. Watching a scene where two characters practised what looked like the Meisner acting technique was only too realistic to my actual acting classes; however, I assume this will only be noticeable to those also in training. But even just as an outsider to the industry this play acts as a fresh insight to the struggling actor, and finally proves how much blood, sweat and tears goes into this industry from every single person in its making.
There’s an awful lot going on; new writing, light and dark humour, with deep issues and a lot of laughs along the way. The fact that such a sensitive issue works well in the same piece as a ‘Star Wars’-themed light sabre fight proves just how clever this play really is. I spent the first hour and a half in hysterics, but suddenly felt like I’d been punched in the stomach when the reality of the darker side set in. Although it is advertised as a comedy, I warn you, take your tissues, and I don’t mean for happy tears.