NSlack Love, the first musical to be created for Paines Plough’s intimate Roundabout stage, is a lesson in the complexities of family relationships. Aurora and Orion are brother and sister, living in a small London flat, bought for them by their late father. Memories fill their dialogue. They act out past moments of tenderness between their parents and their mutual affection is obvious. But when Orion starts dating Lois, a white girl who is dismissive of their Black culture, the siblings are forced to reconsider where their individual priorities lie.
There’s plenty of comedy in Chinonyerem Odimba’s play, which manages to find humour even in the most uncomfortable of problematic comments from Lois, whom Eleanor Sutton plays with the perfect weight of excruciating confidence. We meet Aurora, energetically and flawlessly embodied by Leah St Luce, listing off a collection of names for female genitalia. She is unafraid to shout the word “orgasm” as her brother auditions for acting roles in the next room.
Aurora is bold and zealous; Orion, played tenderly by Nathan Queeley-Dennis, is more reserved. Together, they dazzle us as they sing in perfect harmony about their sibling bond. Aided by the in-the-round setting of this portable theatre, when they talk directly to us, they feel like our friends.
The most powerful moments come when we hear the words of real people, played over Kieran Lucas’s eerie soundscape, who explain what Black love means to them. It is a powerful reminder of everyday Black existence; at times focusing on unfairness but mainly joyful.
Despite a slow start, the show – co-directed by Odimba and Katie Posner for Paines Plough and the Belgrade theatre in association with tiata fahodzi – is a beautiful ode to Black society and home. I’ve been humming the glorious R&B-inspired melodies by Ben and Max Ringham ever since.