First, a warning. Black Sheep is a play about a sword swallower. But unfortunately, in this performance, Livia Kojo Alour never actually swallows her sword. I get an email an hour before informing me that Alour has injured her throat in the run-up to this evening.
Instead, she holds her sharp accessory as she recounts her tales of self-hate. Since moving to London, she has realised her own internalised racism and the entrenched injustice of the “cutthroat” society it is born from. “We are other,” she says with a gasp. It is undeniably important subject matter but the end result of this part-circus, part-poetry hour is uneven.
Some of Alour’s verses hit harder than others. There is heated intensity and lyricism in a letter written to all white people, urging them to shut up. The repetition of the phrase “what are you?” over the steady banging of a drum tremors more and more each time it is said. Quickly though, her feelings start to come across more like rambles.
The problem is a lack of structure. Just as we land on a topic that has the potential to delve deeper into the struggles of living as a Black woman in Britain, it is stopped by a pitchy solo sung by Alour. Even moments that initially stab with their power – such as the ripping off of labels stuck to her skin that describe what Black love can be – are dragged out so far that they lose nearly all of their heat. Alour’s character is not textured enough, so we never really get to feel the painful core of her story.
If only these big ideas were pushed a little further, because Alour is a compelling performer. Unbothered by the overextended silences, she looks you right in the eye as she whispers her rhymes and slowly practises circus skills. She fills the largely undecorated stage with her presence. Still, this one in its current form is just too tough to swallow.