A writer singled out as a future star, Ryan Calais Cameron (Typical) has produced a piece that feels more paradox than play. At 60 minutes it is too brief, yet in some ways it outstays its welcome. The dialogue can be so on the nose as to feel like a Twitter thread made flesh, while its visceral rawness and total authenticity hit you in the gut.
None of this negates the necessity of the play or the urgency of the writer’s voice. The slight story sees Lucas Button’s Harry at home, ready to celebrate his 18th birthday. A knock at the door brings Runaku (Justice Ritchie), a young Black British man whom Harry has always known as Roger. They grew up together in care – Harry due to abandonment, “Roger” due to bereavement. We’re given hints that white Harry has posted something regrettable online. We later hear the TikTok post in which he denounces white privilege and implies that he can’t be racist because his “best friend is Black”.
For Runaku, it is the final straw. He has arrived to celebrate Harry’s birthday but with the help of a Gambian girlfriend who has helped to wake him up to his own Blackness, he has also come to confront the boy he grew up thinking of as a brother and who now represents something far less fraternal.
The piece has much to say. The notion of being “Blackfriended” is powerful and anyone who has had their name anglicised will understand Runaku/Roger’s frustrations, while his response to white privilege should be a final word on the subject: “It’s not about what you’ve been through – it’s about what you’ll never have to go through.”
People of colour will find themselves facing a painful mirror when Runaku relates the story of the first time he experienced in-your-face racism – a moment that, at the final preview I attended, had an obvious impact on the majority white audience.
And that is the paradox: as a piece of drama it is flawed, but if it fulfils a promise of actual change in the audience it is designed to reach then it is deeply important.
At the Studio, Sheffield, until 12 February. Then touring.