A Shiny Life For Me!

a personal review blog by Bianca


02 May 2023
Kiln Theatre
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

The Kiln theatre is one of the few in London that I hadn’t visited yet. It’s a beautiful, small theatre and cinema in Kilburn, focusing on presenting innovative work to elevate unheard voices. If you haven’t been yet, definitely check out the Kiln and their varied programming!

Retrograde, a new play by Ryan Calais-Cameron, focusing on Hollywood’s first Black lead role. In the 1950s, Sidney Poitier is offered this career defining opportunity. But it comes at a cost.

The scene is set beautifully, in the office of Mr. Parks, an influential studio lawyer. Decked out perfectly like a slice of the 50s, brown tones everywhere, mid-century modern wooden furniture, awards and certificates scattered around the office. Enthusiastic director Bobby tries to soften Mr. Parks up, to convince him that Sidney is the perfect leading man for his upcoming film, while the studio bigwig is sceptical and has other plans.

When Poitier does enter the office, he is put through the paces, made to join the day-drinking and chit chat before getting down to business. Before Poitier can sign the studio contract, Parks wants him to publicly denounce the prominent Black activist Paul Robeson.

The play is perfectly scripted, with accents and speech patterns evoking the 50s, social dynamics brought across through posture, gestures, little hints in the three men’s lines. It is a 90 minute play without an interval, which makes it feel very intimate. There are no scene changes, no breaks in the uncomfortable negotiations.

Examining what Black artists had to do to have a chance in the industry, blazing trails for those that followed, jumping through hoops and weighing their options. Calais-Cameron picked a particular scene from Poitier’s life and built a play around it, paying close attention to details of the time period and social circumstances of the time.

Retrograde is perfectly uncomfortable, spellbinding, and intriguing to the last minute.

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