Review – Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf
When the house lights come up on the London performance of For Colored Girls… audience members turn and face one another, clearly moved and drawn closer together by what they have just seen. The play is a potent mix of poetry, song and dance described as a choreopoem. It tackles the full spectrum of female human experience from boyfriends’ excuses through to hard-hitting issues like infanticide, with stories swinging from humour to tragedy, which are made relentlessly challenging in this production, directed by Justina Kehinde and Ifeyinwa Frederick. (who both also star) This production of the play, written by African-American Ntozake Shange, broke history at Cambridge University as the first by an all-black, all-female ensemble to grace a stage at the prestigious institution; however, focusing on this piece of history risks eclipsing the play’s arguably far more impressive achievement; showing both the everyday and life-altering experiences of black women in sharp relief. ‘Latent rapists’, one of the night’s darkest poems, directly challenges the dominant narrative that rape is a crime perpetrated by strangers in dark alleyways. The confrontational nature of the piece is reinforced by the women standing at the edge of the stage, as close as they ever are to the audience, with their faces cast in shadows by spotlights. On a far lighter note, the Lady in Green (Naomi Maxwell) spoke to a generation all too aware of the exact time messages are read on Facebook, when informing us of the number of months, weeks and days her unrequited love had lasted.
To compliment its diverse subject matter, the play’s poems are delivered in a host of different ways. The Lady in Purple (Lolia Etomi) often narrated, while her fellow cast members accompanied her through mime. Incidentally, she was also the most adept at crossing the sex divide to convey a male persona. One particularly memorable segment charts the series of events leading to a positive HIV test. The seductive sashaying and joyous dancing by the Lady in Red (Tasila Banda) and Orange (Ifeyinwa Frederick) respectively brought movement and dynamism to the production, and the four cast members built up a palpable sense of tension as the tempo and seriousness of their dialogue escalates.The evening’s peak in energy came from a line, initially delivered with little emphasis, “My love is too delicate to have thrown back on my face”, but which ultimately builds into a mutually affirming revel. The Ladies form a circle and sing, with each taking to the centre to deliver their own take on the line, with loves ranged from being “too Saturday night” to “too sanctified” to be considered.
Considering individual performances, the Lady in Blue (Justina Kehinde Ogunseitan) is a commanding presence throughout. Her delivery of ‘I used to live in the world’, a poem reflecting on how a move to Harlem crushes her horizons by reducing her universe to six blocks, was especially strong. The Lady in Brown (Stephanie Goulei) quickly recovered from a somewhat unconvincing opening to show herself to be endearingly humorous. The backing band exchanged appreciative smiles throughout her performance of ‘Toussaint’, which involves a young girl coming to terms with racism by developing a love for Haitian hero, Toussaint Louverture.
The play’s tragic moments are deftly offset by a humour that resonates because it highlights familiar realities in obvious but generally unspoken ways, in this For Colored Girls is surprisingly uplifting despite its weighty subject matter. That said, the young cast did not quite fully rise to the challenge of the play’s most emotionally intense moments, so it still did feel like a student performance – albeit a very good one.
For Colored Girls was performed at One Canada Square, London on 13th September.