Written and directed by Ryan Calais Cameron, Rhapsody, which won the Off West End Adopt A Playwright Award, is a play that follows the tumultuous relationship of Asia (played by Veronica Beatrice Lewis) and Yousef (played by Shaun Blackstock.) Stripped back with a minimal set and just two actors, Rhapsody invites the audience to peer into their private life whilst exploring themes of mental health and its effects on their relationship.
It stands out because it’s a very real and very honest depiction of an everyday love story. Nothing gobsmackingly shocking or out the ordinary happens but it illustrates the ever changing fragility of love over time. Jumping between two narratives, one of better happier memories of when Asia and Yousef first met, and then back to the broken and strained relationship of their present, Rhapsody invites you to truly be a fly on the wall.
“Black love is something that is so very rarely captured in theatre, especially not with as much care, depth and believable emotion that Cameron puts in”
Black love is something that is so very rarely captured in theatre, especially not with as much care, depth and believable emotion that Cameron puts in. I sat down with him in the buzzing dimly lit Arcola bar after the show and he explained with a warm passion why he wanted to write a love story: “How comes I can’t see anything that’s set in my neighbourhood? Why does nobody look like me?” Putting just two characters on stage and making them not only relatable with none of the “Romeo and Juliet bars” but also making them people of colour is a rarity in theatre.
Yet, as Cameron explains, “the play itself is universal…it’s just two people struggling in a relationship”. Even though it’s an age old love story that everyone can relate to, the impact of seeing a play that focuses solely on two black people’s relationship is so deliciously refreshing. “I wanted a relationship that the mandem could watch. I can’t get guys to come to romcoms, that doesn’t happen.” Yet Rhapsody isn’t arrogant or too boringly symbolic to decipher, its real and that’s why it works.
Rhapsody isn’t afraid to be awkward, we find ourselves stuck in uncomfortable silences, between private embraces or intimate moments that are enough to make you avert your eyes or laugh awkwardly. “I hate uncomfortable silences,” Shaun who plays the lovable joker Yousef tells me, “It makes me feel uncomfortable.” But it’s these moments, moments where they attempt to discuss mental health or they’re simply just staring into nothingness that really make the play. “It’s very important in the play to have uncomfortable silences because it’s the basis of their relationship.”
“Rhapsody is really about the manifestation of mental health in a relationship and mental health in the black community”
Once you delve under the outer layer of the story, Rhapsody is really about the manifestation of mental health in a relationship and mental health in the black community. It’s the unspoken undercurrent of the whole play and one that’s essentially breaking down their relationship. Cameron explained that he spent over a year looking into the effects of mental illness in relationships by listening to testimonies from black women, and his research really shows: “I was able to listen firsthand to black women talking about mental health from their perspective and their place in society.” He manages to write a believable multifaceted black female character, one I’m sure a lot of black women can see in themselves.
And in the play it’s Asia’s mask that resonates most with actress Veronica, “What I could relate to most was the mask, we pretend”. The notion of having to put up a strong front as a black woman who’s watched generations of their family suffer in silence is something that rings very true. Veronica continues, “there have been days where I’ve felt down…you have to fight against this feeling of feeling empty and hollow.”
Both Veronica and Shaun took command of the stage with no more than a dining room table and chairs to hide behind. They charmed us with their jokes and laughter transporting us all back to our first love, simultaneously taking us down a sometimes difficult and honest depiction of relationships, carefully broaching the topics of depression and eating disorders in a delicate and non abrasive way. It’s funny, it’s thought provoking and it’s just what the theatre world needs right now.
Rhapsody runs until Friday 6th April and you can buy tickets here.