Review: Chiaroscuro

The Bush Theatre until 5th October 2019

Do you know where your name came from? Chiaroscuro’s punchy opening brings us four women all revealing the origin of their names. It’s written so that we immediately feel a connection to and affinity with each character. Beth (Shiloh Coke) is a confidently out lesbian, battling with her surfacing past, whilst Aisha (Preeya Kalidas), a carpenter, has her own inner turmoils. Opal (Anoushka Lucas) grew up in foster care, and faces a struggle with her identity and Yomi (Gloria Onitiri), a single mother, confronts the impact of racial abuse and microaggressions she has experienced throughout her life. 

It’s completely thrilling that The Bush Theatre have initiated the Passing The Baton scheme, in which they have revived a series of works from playwrights of colour, Chiaroscuro being the concluding play in this initiative. 

Written by Jackie Kay and directed by Lynette Lynton, Chiaroscuro was first performed at The Soho Poly in 1986. My initial thought was that it would have been ahead of it’s time, but I doubt it was – fringe theatre has always been ahead of it’s time, thankfully in 2019 the voices of queer people and QPOC are finally taking up their places on larger stages, albeit far later than is excusable. Lynton keeps this piece firmly rooted in the 80s, which is where it belongs – I think it would fall flat with any attempts to modernise it.  Despite the 33 year interlude between it’s first performance and now, Chiaroscuro still has plenty to say, whilst seemingly saying very little. There’s a beautiful simplicity sitting amongst the intricate language, a homophobic comment at a dinner party which triggers a series of responses from the characters that keep the audience engaged throughout. 

Gig-theatre is currently all the rage, and Lynton’s choice to place this version in this category is what makes it such a success; music composed and directed by Shiloh Coke who also plays the role of Beth, pumps life and joy into this story, and her songs are the perfect counterpart to Kay’s lyrical writing. 

The cast keep this lively piece up on it’s toes for the duration of an hour and twenty minutes, and you can’t help but empathise with the portrayal of the characters across their struggles. All sing fabulously. If anything, I felt a couple of the characters bordered on underdeveloped, particularly Aisha whose story I felt left us hanging. Nonetheless, this was a vibrant and uplifting night at the theatre, and despite dealing with the topics of homophobia and racism, left us with ripples of hope as we left the auditorium. 

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© Image Johan Persson

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