‘Chris O’Donnell in Batman Forever made me a fag.’

The title and first line of Danny Lee Wynters’ razor-sharp debut play set the tone for what’s to come: a confessional, irreverent, and cheekily entertaining exploration of being black, queer, and an actor, centred around the theme of superheroes.

Credit: Johan Persson

While formally more conventional than much of the Royal Court’s programme, BLACK SUPERHERO certainly brings a lot to the table, with a quick, playful script, radiantly talented cast (and yes, they are all very attractive) and stunning set design that opens up and evolves throughout the piece.

David (Lee Wynters) is struggling to make it work. In his late thirties, single and living with his younger sister (whom he has nothing in common with), he’s still trying to break through as an actor, while watching from the sides as one of his best friends, King (Dyllón Burnside), rises meteorically into the spotlight after being cast as Marvel-esque superhero, Craw.

Confronting questions around the line between acting and activism, the ‘greediness’ of open relationships, and the film industry’s obsession with sexuality, David, King, sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall) and muscular friend Raheem (Eloka Ivo) dialogue back and forth about politics, art and everything in between. At times it can feel a little didactic, putting hot topic issues in front of character development, but once the drama gets underway — especially in the second half — an engaging story of David’s heart-breaking attachment to King emerges that plunges the depths of his struggles with alcohol, his career, and his desire to be saved.

David is a brilliant character — an over-thinker and hopelessly insecure performer who only thinks he’s not a hot mess because he hangs out with such ridiculously perfect companions in a brutally superficial industry. I felt for him and for the writer behind, and there are some brilliant relationships at play. David’s phone conversation with Syd is captivating, and the backhanded, game-playing relationship between King and his husband Steven (Ben Allen) is filled with witty observations about strained long-term relationships. The supporting cast does a fabulous job of bringing minor characters to life, and the performances are detailed and full of flavour across the board.

Credit: Johan Persson

The play’s progress to a press tour in Australia raises the stakes to a more dramatically engaging level, and a high-point dinner party introduces the older producer, Kweku (Ako Mitchell), who takes on the role of daddy and saviour in an increasingly drug-fuelled, sordid and emotional exploration of sadomasochistic desire. Mitchell’s sumptuously patterned outfits stand out even in the play’s consistently beautiful design — a real triumph for the piece, that sees some truly breathtaking use of falling sand, heavenly light and shadow puppetry.

If the play’s obsession with pop culture and polemic can keep things operating on a more intellectual level, there are enough jokes, movement sequences and scene changes to keep it from growing stale, and the sexy, flirtatious nature of the whole keeps it moving at a generous pace. It’s a joy to see a production voice black and queer perspectives so clearly, skewering the bland virtue signalling of white liberal gays (I felt seen) and exploring the film world’s flawed treatment of race and sexuality with nuance and flair.

Regardless of its occasional distance and somewhat light conclusion, BLACK SUPERHERO is an incredibly impressive debut aided by a bold, engaging, and vibrant production.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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