Black Theater Gives Voice to Us. It deserves a Black Audience

You read My Black History, a series of personal reflections of black women in the UK on the meeting point of history and life lessons.

I was six years old when I saw my first play – a pantomime version of Cinderella. Feeling the stage live through performance and music was an emotion, even at that young age. I joined every theater and music club in the school and went on every theatrical trip. And I even started thinking about a career in music theater.

This love of theater is genetic, I think – my late father was a huge fan of the arts. He was president of the drama club at university and traveled all the way to London from Kenya to watch Miss Saigon. My sister inherited the theatrical bug, playing Annie at the age of 10 and taking performers in school until the sixth grade. It was only natural for me to follow in their footsteps.

But as I got older, my dreams of performing in the West End began to feel unrealistic for a Black girl from Dagenham. Most of the shows I saw had an all-white cast. Black performers only seemed to get the lead roles in shows like The Lion King and Dream Girls. As my West End dreams began to fade, my love for theater grew – and became a hobby that became even more joyful due to the rise of Black shows and Black stories in the British theatrical world.

One play that really stands out to me is Tree, which I saw, pre-pandemic, at the Young Vic in 2019. Before the show started, it felt like a packed club. A DJ played Dancehall and Afrobeats, while the cast and audience danced on stage. The story, which is based on an album by Idris Elba, began in London but quickly moved to South Africa, following a boy named Kaelo after a family tragedy. Seats for the show were limited so we stood for most of it, but I barely realized I was so involved. Moments like this highlight for me that Black theater can challenge how traditional theater should look and feel.

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