Theatre: Midland Arts Centre Birmingham
Playwright: Daniel Anderson
Director: Jay Crutchley
Producers: Sandra Griffiths and Husnaa Anderson
Review by Joy Francis
Black men and mental health is an unsettling running story. Chiefly because black men are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than their white counterparts. As with most statistics, this startling figure only tells part of a more complex story, one which the play Revealed tries to unravel in an ambitious and emotionally-charged production.
Set in a Caribbean shop and restaurant in Birmingham, with a riot raging outside, Revealed charts the fraught relationship between three generations of black men – a grandfather, father and son – each locked in a battle with themselves, and holding secrets from each other.
The charismatic patriarch Sidney (Thomas Vernal) is a born again Christian with the mouth of a Jamaican sailor. Stubborn and full of stories, he is trying to keep the legacy of his parents’ business alive.
His son Malcolm (Daniel Anderson) is a walking time bomb. A former gang member and budding entrepreneur, Malcolm defines himself through an unhealthy hypermasculinity, honed through street life. Weakness isn’t allowed in his world, which doesn’t bode well for his 17 year old son Luther (Zak Douglas), who is academically motivated, interested in world politics and preoccupied with vegan recipes, social media and fashion.
Luther is full of questions and craves the guidance of a black male role model. His relationship with his father is strained. Their world views divergent, unlike his more positive relationship with his cranky but entertaining grandad who humours him. They banter and share stories in the half stocked shop with no customers and £14 in the till.
Sidney reveals that as a young man he was called ‘Hollywood’ for his fashion sense, dance skills and way with the ladies. Amid the humour and nostalgia is regret at the breakdown of his marriage, the cause of which is kept hidden.
The mood darkens when Malcolm arrives. Full of adrenalin and machismo, masking deep insecurities, he believes he knows best. Conversations descend into accusations over the poor performance of the shop and restaurant. Part owner, he wants to diversify to build the brand and enable customers to order online. Sidney disagrees while Luther suggests widening the menu to include vegetarian and vegan options.
Distraction comes in the shape of an escalating riot outside the shop, triggered by the death of Jerome, Malcolm’s friend’s son who died in police custody. Meanwhile, the tensions mount inside the shop. Malcolm expresses anger at Sidney’s lack of love during his childhood, which drove him into gang culture.
Luther is frustrated at Malcolm’s aggression, violence and disrespect towards him, his white mother and sexuality. Sidney struggles to keep the peace between his son and grandson over what it means to be a man (“Lives are being lost in the name of the street.”) while fighting to retain his dignity amid internal feelings of shame.
When emotions reach breaking point, both inside and outside the shop, secrets are revealed which put lives in danger, relationships at risk and leads to confessions that unearth a deep need for healing.
First showcased at a sold out production in February 2018, Revealed has undergone a rewrite that serves it well. Brexit and the pervasive presence of social media, particularly live streaming, makes the play more rooted and immediate.
Jay Crutchley’s direction is tight and intimate, creating a kitchen sink drama vibe, while the ensemble breath life into a wordy but potent script. Thomas Vernal’s Sidney is the play’s anchor; full of brio, charm and poignancy while Zak Douglas shines as Luther, who grows into a man before our eyes. Daniel Anderson, who also wrote the play, is electric as the menacing yet vulnerable Malcolm; emotionally lost and in mental distress.
At times trying to say too much, Revealed is a much needed play that will spark debate and reflection about the stark realities facing black men around their identity and the opportunity to express their true emotions.
Revealed will be on tour in 2019. Dates to be announced.