Tuesday, May 28

Bootycandy – Gate Theatre

This wasn’t a normal night at the theatre. It felt like a 1960s ‘happening’ but with smart phones in place of LSD and a post-modern, clued-up crowd who‘ve seen previous generations failed dreams and repeated ‘revolutions’ and have taken to TikTok to cuss their hippy forbears. The Summer of Love died and became the Bummer of Life. Welcome to 2023.

There was a domestic installation near the entrance of the theatre, a little pop-up kitchen, complete with electric hob and saucepans full of condoms, lube and sexual health info. ’Black Joy is Power’ said one of the stickers, while brilliantly bigging up STI home testing kits and PrEP

The show is presented in the round and as the lively audience took their seats, an ‘80s soul soundtrack span a semi disco vibe as Cheryl Lynn and Michael Jackson spilled from the speakers. On stage, the actor, Prince Kundai danced to the funk with spirited enthusiasm while wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. Is he in character? Is this wilfully, or subjectively erotic? 

Oh, but he’s riffing with the audience, sharing dance moves and grins. Kundai exuded a giddy kiddie-esque joy and such gymnastic moves, I feared he may peak too early. Of course, he didn’t, but Kundai did establish a happy rapport with the Camden crowd and in the mood of the play, he’d also broken the fourth wall. 

Bootycandy is by Robert O’ Hara, who’s a bit of an enfant terrible in American theatrical circles. O’Hara was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for his direction of Slave Play and has proved divisive to critics. Many hail his genius. Some are offended by his uneasy satire and others are unsure what to make of him. He’s certainly not here to create an easy or comfortable ride. As a black gay writer, he creates work that questions white supremacy, black stereotypes and the ironies of being black and gay. In a straight white world, how does one emerge from a ‘traditional’ black home with comedic notions of tradition and family.

Bootycandy is a confounding, queer and rich creative collage, snarling with satire, brimming with absurd comedy and at its core, questioning the writing process, linear narratives and the prison of expected structures. At times, it’s quite baffling, but one just has to roll with the chaos and enjoy the rollercoaster. 

Thanks to an outstanding cast, even when one’s brain is melting, the eyes and ears are having a ball. Threaded through this time-slipping trip is the tale of Sutter (Prince Kundai) who we see grow from an inquisitive kid coming to terms with his sexuality into a ‘black playwright’ who’s battling himself while navigating the boundaries of the white theatrical establishment. 

Bimpé Pacheco (Actor 1) and DK Fashola (Actor 3) deserve a massive shout for their comedic skills, creating huge and hilarious characters that owe more to surrealist clowning than measured quips and subtle jokes. They had me in stitches. 

Bootycandy is radical theatre that provokes, questions and leaves the audience wondering how to process the event. It’s often offensive, slyly intellectual and very compelling, even when confusion seems about to overwhelm the mood. 

Bootycandy is at Theatro Technis @ 26 Crowndale, 26 Crowndale Road, Camden, London, NW1 1T

Playing Monday 13th February – Saturday 11th March, www.gatetheatre.co.uk  

Reviewer: Stewart Who?

Reviewed: 17th February 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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