This new play by Dior Clarke with co-writer Stephanie Martin fizzes with energy from the moment the lights go down. The audience lets out cheers and whoops of appreciation. The lights (designed by Martha Godfrey) pulse, the music (sound design by Kaynde Gomez) pounds.
Clarke – who takes the lead role of Romeo – hits the stage dancing, each move a joy and a challenge. He is joined by Charlotte Gosling and Hayden Mampasi, who play multiple roles throughout, gender-fluid as necessary.
In Melina Namdar’s production, previously seen at The Glory last year, we watch Romeo’s journey from the age of five (with his mum painting his nails) to eighteen, always knowing he was gay but dealing with the expectations of his peers as a young black man.
If you saw Clarke’s short film Batty Boy on Sky Arts a few years ago – it also plays, silently, in the theatre cafe here – you will recognise some of this conflict. The need to play tough.
The men we meet through Passion Fruit are diverse: a violent dad, trouble-seeking brother Perry, classmate Aaron who ends up in a lie and a Football League shirt, mum’s new beau, Sammi who struts up to Romeo in a bar, and more.
There is so much emphasis on movement, often at close quarters, and that this works whether in dance, fight, or a loving bump of noses is a tribute to the work of Kane Husbands and Mateus Daniel (movement) and Robbie Taylor Hunt (intimacy director).
Gosling’s work as a fierce but abused mum of two growing boys, the over-confident Sammi, and a rich gay inviting all and sundry to party, is compelling to watch. Mampasi is very good at showing the toxic masculinity that runs through black gang culture, yet is hilarious as an oversexed auntie.
It’s Clarke, though, whose Romeo anchors this piece. From young boy liking pretty things to experimenting teen, to party bitch shaking off his dad’s legacy, he never mis-steps. His often-repeated “I’m all right” and his athletic gyrating rub against a world where being yourself and being true means everything.
A fabulous and dynamic debut, Passion Fruit shows what the best of fringe theatre can achieve, and fearlessly inhabits its space, challenging both racism and homophobia.
Keep an eye on Clarke. This writer-performer is going places, and it is going to be quite a ride.
You can see Passion Fruit until 19 March at the New Diorama Theatre. Buy your tickets here.
Image credit: Cesare Di Giglio