All the world’s a stage, as the saying goes, but here at The Gate Theatre it’s specifically the world of a black, gay man, made theatrically and provocatively visible in Director Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu‘s masterful interpretation of Bootycandy.
This is a satirical, semi-autobiographical work by writer Robert O’Hara. It loosely tracks the life of Sutter, a black, gay man, growing up in a challenging, contradictory world of misinformation, where there is either no vocabulary to describe his experience, or the language that is available is inadequate. Why is his dick his bootycandy, and why is that word not in the dictionary?
The confusion of Sutter’s life is enacted in the very form of the play; a series of bewildering and provocative scenes, articulated with flamboyance, flair and poignancy by Fynn-Aiduenu. It’s a complex kaleidoscope of scenes that engage with all facets of Sutter’s experience, from delightful campy joy to the darkness of suicide.
My mouth literally dropped open when I read that the role of Sutter is Prince Kundai‘s debut performance. He is supremely confident, deftly tying the disparate scenes together. This guy delivers it all – charm, vulnerability, sadness and darkness, with flawless precision. The supporting cast are an equally exciting, dynamic team, clearly enjoying the show and bringing huge energy.
Sutter’s theatre is placed unmissably centre stage, acted out on, under and around a vast platform which serves multiple scenes, perhaps as a dance floor, or the conference centre where we learn that the scenes we’ve just watched have been written by the attendees. It opens up, at one point revealing four black women on the phone, performed hilariously by DK Fashola and Bimpé Pacheco. They are characterised brilliantly by their fast-changing wigs, strong accents and impenetrable dialect, while discussing whether Genitalia is a good name for a child.
Clothes are costumes, as life’s roles are acted out. Milla Clarke‘s excellent design work plays with black and gay stereotypes, offering fabulous retro outfits, and a Michael Jackson costume that hints at ideas of closeted homosexuality and the connections with paedophilia that society is prone to associate with gay men. Reminiscent of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ work, objects are charged with stereotyped cultural association; the family eating from McDonalds boxes. Life is fun and frightening, complex and contradictory.
Luke Wilson threatens to upstage as the unrepentant gay pastor, revealing his gold high heel boots and sequins beneath the robe. It’s an outstanding delivery of an excellent script, every word of his hilariously absurd, extreme yet deeply inspirational sermon of value: “You ain’t gotta be afraid of who you are”. The message is taken into the audience. Around this stage we don’t just sit, but become an active part of the congregation. We hear, learn and become converts.
At times the audience are almost voyeuristic. The beautiful choreographed sex scenes between Kundai and the supremely talented Roly Botha are balletic, highlighted by exquisite lighting work from Jahmiko Marshall. Botha as the ‘white man’ brings fabulous creepiness to their characters; as predator and prey, rocking a distorted stand-up routine, and as the crass white moderator at a conference of playwrights.
Sutter’s world contains passion, desire, beauty, ugliness, darkness, but also joy. He reminds us that ultimately if people were just left to enjoy their bootycandy the world might be a better place. It’s certainly better for this production: an absolute triumph!
Written by: Robert O’Hara
Directed by: Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu
Lighting design by: Jahmiko Marshall
Sound design by: Duramaney Kamara
Movement direction by: Malik Nashad Sharpe
Bootycandy plays at Gate Theatre until 11 March. Further information and bookings can be found here.