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Black Superhero review: A funny and unflinching exploration of Black masculinity

Danny Lee Wynter’s ambitious play is witty and biting, with intense stand-out moments that force its audience to pay attention

Nicole Vassell
Thursday 23 March 2023 14:51 GMT
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Danny Lee Wynter and Rochenda Sandall in ‘Black Superhero'
Danny Lee Wynter and Rochenda Sandall in ‘Black Superhero' (Johan Persson)

“Ain’t nothing casual about casual sex with a mate, you get me?” So goes an early warning from Syd (Rochenda Sandall) to her older brother David (Danny Lee Wynter) when he tells her about the raunchy new dynamic of an old friendship. It’s guidance he’d do well to listen to. Yet the plot of Black Superhero, an unflinching exploration of Black masculinity, is driven by his decision to ignore it – and gives way to a bold story about a man’s battle to keep his life in check.

Wynter, both playwright and lead actor, plays David: 39, deeply insecure and stuck in a professional and romantic rut. Barely earning a living playing characters at kids’ parties, David hasn’t yet had that big acting break, and he’s giving up hope. Meanwhile, his friends Raheem (Eloka Ivo) and King (Pose star Dyllón Burnside) are thriving, the latter a global celebrity for his role as action franchise superhero, Craw. Add to that the fact that he’s consistently, involuntarily single and you could say David’s life isn’t panning out as he’d hoped. So when King informs him of the newly open terms of his marriage, David is quick to accept King’s proposition of a night of passion. Maybe falling in love with a charming, muscular celebrity will be the thing that saves his life?

Black Superhero has a lot going for it. For one, Wynter’s script is funny and biting; David’s interactions with his circle resemble conversations you might overhear at the next table at a trendy restaurant. From scathing critiques of royal marriages to impressions of Tiffany Pollard in Celebrity Big Brother, the characters are instantly likeable. Scenes between David and Syd are particularly effective, as their strong sibling bond wavers under the pressure of David’s questionable choices.

With sex so essential to the plot, Black Superhero doesn’t shy away from nudity and repeatedly features characters in various states of undress. Displaying Black male sexuality so frankly on a major London stage feels radical and exciting. It’s perhaps a direct response to an on-stage debate about the (lack of) sexual content in the Oscar-winning film, Moonlight. By placing Black gay love at the centre of the Royal Court stage, Wynter ensures the audience pays attention.

The play’s irreverent nature makes the more serious moments feel all the more brutal. An act two monologue in which David exposes the roots of his issues with self-esteem is unsettling and performed with fierce intensity by Wynter. Sandall also delivers a tender, sisterly speech in the final scene.

In under two hours, Black Superhero wrestles with representation politics, the successes and pitfalls of polyamory, abuse, racial discrimination and fetishisation. It’s a lot to get through. No wonder a few of the points raised aren’t fully fleshed out. Ultimately, though, the performances will slay you, Wynter’s words lingering in the air long after the curtain has fallen.

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