by Jamal Gerald
The Yard, London until Feb 15th 2020
Jamal Gerald is here to take up space. He is a Queer Black Man and makes sure we know it. All to the good. There is so much to love in Idol. The deep-rooted rituals and rites of a Caribbean household inform a tongue-in-cheek celebrity worship that makes as least as much sense as Black people praying to White Jesus. White supremacy breathes, it crawls, so if you don’t want it to follow you into the house make sure to come in anticlockwise.
The references to African diaspora experiences, to Caribbean culture, to being young and Black in Leeds or Black and Queer in the Tinder age, all of these are personal and specific, but there’s something in Idol for everyone. It felt accessible while still very much representing a certain way of being. Whether or not you recognise the Orisha altars around the performance space, or the Catholic style altar bearing likenesses of Prince, Beyoncé, Lil Kim et al, their purpose is clear and the effect is complete.
Two musicians sit upstage throughout, scoring movement or coming to the fore between spoken scenes and they are excellent. Having them play live elevates Idol, completes the sensory cocoon spun by the simple and satisfying lighting design, which evokes each mood without resorting to flashy theatrics, the scents of rosewater, incense and candlewax (reminiscent of church, of holy spaces) and the natural wood-and-earth environs of The Yard itself. Their style is contemporary and the music rich with tradition, the perfect accompaniment to Gerald’s script and performance. Not to mention the best maraca playing you’re ever likely to see on a London stage.
No exploration of colourism or colonialism will ever be complete, but the framing of idolatry -questioning who we uphold as holy and why- is a new perspective and so timely in our celebrity-obsessed age. As one of the original celebrities, Jesus has enjoyed enduring popularity, but has his persistent (and erroneous) depiction as a white man helped him maintain that status past his time?
Part autobiography and part rebuttal of colonial belief systems, Idol celebrates the new without disregarding or disrespecting the old ways and questions how we can honour our culture while finding our own way to take up space. Gerald gives a sensual and assured performance, despite a tendency to mumble. He is funny, smart and deeply likeable and isn’t afraid to leave some questions unanswered. The ceremony and celebration of Idol is a balm for the troubled soul of the Millennial diaspora.
© Sophie London 2020 @solosays
IDOL will be touring the UK until May, stopping off at Derby, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Cambridge, Brighton and Leeds. More info and links to booking here.
Image © JMA Photography