The layout of A Black Story at Applecart Arts swamps it instantly. Six bland office chairs in two rows of three sit onstage, accompanied by wholly uninspiring costume. I feel desperate for an overarching aesthetic, or even a colour scheme. The actors are distanced and trapped in their chairs for the majority of the performance. This limitation may have sparked creative ingenuity. I often read of actors and directors embracing the challenges of performing in a mid-pandemic world but, unfortunately, there are sparse instances of interesting movement. Not to mention that the actors seated in the front row are forced to turn around to speak to their scene partner which instantly spoils any opportunity for them to flourish with facial expression. The actors are resigned to stillness, and the audience switches off.
Post-lockdown, mid-pandemic theatre is an emerging genre of solution oriented artists adapting in extremely difficult circumstances. Sabrina Richmond tells a story of six individuals, each neatly paired off, processing various disputes. We observe a woman meeting her great-grandchild for the first time, two half-brothers meeting for the very first time and a pair of lovers struggling to keep distanced for fourteen days.
Richmond’s intention was to produce a play which explored human relationships without entangling it in the label of ‘Black Theatre’. Whilst there are interesting declarations of Black British history these are awkwardly interspersed within a clunky timeline, and this leads to the interesting discussions about race not being as powerful as they can be.
I feel that there is a disconnect from our reality here too. Despite being vaguely tethered to this world and Coronavirus exists, it feels like a dreary limbo where Coronavirus is as simple as a lurgy. This weak connection with the present does not allow for the story to be as pertinent as it could be. I believe this can be achieved through explorations of human relationships: Richmond’s insights into healing and progress through understanding are important and are a strength of the piece. I am confident that with a stronger focus on this strength of Richmond’s in future work there will be incredibly powerful pieces to come.
A Black Story has plenty of potential for a rich and moving narrative, but is let down by rigid text, stagnant staging and lacklustre performances. This seems a product of unclear intentions rather than a lack of talent, and there is intense potential embedded in this show. I anticipate Richmond’s next work as underlying strengths in this piece could make for some brilliant future pieces of theatre.
A Black Story played at Applecart Arts until 24th October. For more information and tickets, see Applecart Arts website .