For Coloured Girls
Stop seeing the same old productions at the ADC and go see something original, argues TOMMY SHANE.
So often the Cambridge theatre scene employs its best actors, best writers and best directors to try better the performances of past terms. Better sketch shows, better musicals, better Greek tragedies. Often they succeed; often they don’t.
But occasionally a production comes along that doesn’t better a previous performance, because there hasn’t been one to compare it with. For Coloured Girls was one of these.
It is the first all black, all female cast for a theatre production in Cambridge’s 800 year history. As director Justina Kehinde Ogunseitan advertises, this is not just a first for Cambridge theatre, but for black representation in Cambridge.
But when Kehinde asserts this, true though it undoubtedly is, she does her play a disservice. It implies that the production rides on the back of its ethnic novelty, worthy of an audience only insofar as it is providing a platform for a hitherto unrepresented ethnic minority.
But I spent a solid hour and a half engrossed in the play not because of the novelty of the cast, but because of the innovation and sincerity of the production.
The thought of spoken word poetry really makes me cringe. As does impromptu theatrical dancing. But every single one of the seven actors in this play really seemed to understand everything they were doing. They didn’t appear to think about how to say their lines, when to dance or if to repress any urges. Unless this play was totally autobiographical, these women produced some authentic, heartfelt acting that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.
Discussing issues from losing their virginity to rape, from sex and dancing to domestic violence, emotions were spilling out everywhere from the stage. The inventive use of colour helped sustain continuity of character, as well as cleverly reinventing the superficial meaning of ‘coloured girls’. And the three-piece band was used to complement rather than define the mood, never over-used.
There was one specific moment I remember when a woman speaking of her desire to love and be loved got a little too gushy for me. But then Kehinde called out to the audience: ‘let’s go ahead and be white then, be abstract and dry.’ This play doesn’t do understatement, repression or muted emotion. And this added to the overwhelming sense that I wasn’t watching a play like I’ve seen before.
The women defined their tone, and expected the audience to take it or leave it. It didn’t try to adhere to our usual expectations of theatre, but instead created its own. And as such I barely noticed the slipping between poetry and prose, between movement and dance.
Now it must, must be said that there were some tremendous faults. The accents were seriously dodgy, and that did often snap me out of the sense of being in America. It’s not got the flash and spectacle of an ADC mainshow. And the Fitzpatrick Hall in Queens’ really didn’t complement the production. For those of you who haven’t been, it’s of a scale that comfortably rivals the ADC, but in this context it detracted from some of the intimacy of this play’s content. I just kept wishing it was in the Corpus Playroom, though I doubt this was Kehinde’s creative choice.
But if you want to see a play of raw emotions, something unlike you’re normal experience of this university and it’s theatre scene, go see this play. No doubt it’s not for everyone, but I implore you to take a risk. If it means you miss an ADC show because of it, don’t worry: it’ll be on again soon in a different form. This, I fear, won’t.