Culture

Caste-ing review – shining a light on the inequities of the acting industry

Making it as an actor is hard enough but this play by Nicole Acquah is a lesson in the particular realities, hardships and pressures faced by Black women when they step into the industry. Acquah has fused together a series of frustrations to form her play, which is written with feeling and staged on a stripped back set.

From the darkness, three Black women come with microphones in hand. “Bring your game,” they instruct each other – and they do. With furious rhythms, songs and spoken word, they act out the ways in which the acting world has held them back from progress. They sit in audition waiting rooms, compete against each other for limited parts and do their best to keep believing that they are doing the right thing.

Caste-ing.
Bringing their game … Caste-ing. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Acquah’s script has an initial power but this wanes when ideas aren’t expanded on, such as the rewording of Craig David’s 7 Days to encapsulate the countless hours actors spend waiting by the phone. With no linear structure, the necessary subject matter doesn’t land with the weight it should. We want the women on stage to have more developed backstories. It is crying out for a concrete plot to keep the drama pushing.

So it is down to the trio of young performers to hold our focus. Rima Nsubuga, Yemi Yohannes and Stephanie Da Silva give it all they’ve got. The poetry of Acquah’s writing may not hook us, but it is a gift to show their varied talents. And with choreographed routines, beatbox breaks and a cappella numbers, at its most successful Caste-ing sings with vim.

Directed by Shakira Newton, the ensemble’s movement is polished. The actors take turns to become girls who win coveted roles – each with varied physicality. The vicious daily microaggressions they encounter are battled with devised dance.

At the curtain call, reality starts to hit. Two of the actors, Yohannes and Da Silva, reveal they have not got agents. “If you like us, sign us,” they say. Someone should – their ability alone proves this industry is in desperate need of fixing.

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