An honest, telling, but ultimately flawed piece of one-man theatre, Walk Like a Black Man is an autobiographical work by writer and performer Rafiq Richard, exploring the challenges he faced as a young man being half-black, half-Indian and, as he puts it, ‘100% confused’.
The show centres on a single moment in Richard’s life from when he was a teenager. It explores a few minutes of identity crisis as he nervously prepares to meet what he calls his ‘black family’ (his father’s relatives), which he feels will finally end his struggle to reconcile himself with his mixed heritage. His frustration at being unable to fit any category is something anyone who’s been a teenager can identify with. A teen’s world is as segregated as any other and it’s a clever comparison that Richard draws. He doesn’t want to be ‘half’ black or ‘half’ Indian, but ‘full’ something. ‘Full’ anything.
Richard is a game performer and goes at his material with gusto. Though when I attended he had a scant audience of six, his energy never flagged and he seemed determined to give just as energetic a show as if he were playing to a packed house. Unfortunately, the unevenness of the material really works against him. Walk Like a Black Man just isn’t sure what kind of show it wants to be. It was surprising to see it listed under theatre, as its execution felt more like a spoken word piece, while the comically exaggerated teenage opinions had more in common with character comedy. The joke count is high, but there are more misses than hits and a couple of punchlines that don’t sit too comfortably (dyslexic schoolchildren do many things, but ‘eat rubbers’ is not one of them).
There’s a lot to praise in the ideas and enthusiasm of Walk like a Black Man, but much of that is just let down by the the writing, which makes this a difficult show to honestly recommend. At the show’s core is a wonderful idea and it feels like, with some polishing and judicious editing, it could have blossomed and produced something exceptional. As it stands, however, the show feels like a taster of what could have been.