Culture critic Will Gillingham is captivated by BMOS Musical Theatre Company's My Fair LadyWritten by Will Gillingham on 27th June 2017
Review: ‘The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin’ at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
Maddie Bourne reviews a 'lively and sobering' musical about racism in 60's America
Whether we like it or not, we now live in an extremely politically-charged world. Politics filters down into every aspect of our lives, and with 2016 shocking the world with Brexit and Trump’s presidency, it’s no surprise that this conversation is happening. The world is often a place where unspeakable things happen, things that should not be allowed to occur in our so-called civilised world: terrorism ruins the lives of innocent people internationally and sadly, racism is a systemic issue still affecting countless millions. For these reasons alone, it is important that we’re educated on these horrors, so we can change the world for the better. And one thing that is also needed is some light relief: an escape from how unfair the world can be.
“Theatre is a powerful art form that can be used to make a statement, to educate us on important matters. Theatre can also heal
Theatre is a powerful art form that can be used to make a statement, to educate us on important matters. Theatre can also heal; it can bring some positivity and light up the lives of those in the audience. When I sat down at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry for a performance of off-Broadway musical hit The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, I was educated and I found myself smiling - from the very beginning, until the curtains closed.
Kirsten Childs’ bubbly musical follows young Viveca, a black girl growing up in 1960s America, as she navigates her dreams of becoming a famous dancer. Reminiscent of Hairspray, we learn about the prejudices faced by black people, and in particular, how difficult it was for a young black person to be growing up in America at that time. Lively and sobering, effervescent and poignant, this musical taught me so much and inspired me to make my own small change in the world. This is just how theatre should be: thoroughly entertaining, yet thoroughly moving.
“Lively and sobering, effervescent and poignant
Although Viveca (nicknamed Bubbly, for her constant sunny personality) is growing up in a world full of hatred, she’s determined to make something of herself. We often witness theatre, movies and stories powerfully showing the horrific realities of the persecution faced by black people throughout history, but never have I witnessed a plot that does this quite as movingly as this musical does.
Poignantly, one of the first scenes places us in young Viveca’s bedroom. When playing with her toy dolls, she chooses her white doll over her black doll. To see a young girl cast aside the doll because society has deemed the preference to be ‘the white man’s world’ is heart-breaking and distressing - for no-one should ever be made to feel inferior down to the colour of their skin. As we watch Viveca grow throughout the performance, she reaches high school and is bullied by fellow black peers for trying to ‘hang out with the white kids’. Viveca even goes as far as to say that she wants to be white herself. To see a young girl desperately wanting to change who she is because of the disgusting racism of society is desperately saddening to watch - it hits powerfully, arguably more so than other portrayals of racism in art have done.
When bullied by her black peers for trying ‘too hard’ to be friends with a predominantly white friendship group, Viveca innocently says to herself ‘what’s so bad about an Oreo anyway?’, eliciting raucous laughter from the audience, who are all along rooting for Bubbly. And this is where the true magic of Kirsten Childs’ writing shines through. Each and every single time we are moved close to tears from the heart-breaking truths about the horrors of racism, Bubbly cracks another joke with her bubbly personality, a comedic scene ensues for some light relief or an uplifting song begins to cheer us all up and before we know it, we’re crying tears of joyous laughter. Featuring an original soundtrack influenced by music styles at the time, such as R&B and Motown, we’re immersed in a world that is, yes, full of awful things, but it’s a hopeful world where good people bring a ray of sunshine to their lives even when things are unbearably tough.
“The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin sticks two fingers up to racism
When asked why she wrote The Bubbly Black Girl, Kirsten Childs put it better than I could even attempt to: ‘allowing anger [about racism] to consume you is self-defeating and unproductive, which is why I chose to write a story of hope and humour about the ridiculousness of racism and intolerance.’ I reluctantly left the theatre not wanting to leave Viveca’s personal world, where the good ultimately triumphs and people valiantly keep smiling throughout any terrible things that come their way. The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin sticks two fingers up to racism and for anyone who’s ever felt alone, bullied or pressured to be someone you’re not, it’ll give you the hope and utter motivation to achieve your dreams and just do you.