When the bubble bursts…
The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin is an award winning musical which spans 1960s to present day. We follow the journey of Viveca as she comes of age, we witness her challenges of wanting to become a successful dancer during a time where opportunities were limited for a person of colour. The play begins and ends with a news article of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing where four black girls were killed in Birmingham, Alabama by a white supremacist bomber on Sunday 15th September 1963, setting the scene for the production. Right from the start we are told, you can be as good and God-fearing as you like, but as long as you are black in America you aren’t safe, even in a place that should be safe and sanctified.
The beauty of this play is that you could try and say, but that is history, the clothes, the music and the years flashing up tell us so. But with realities like 9 black people being killed at a church in Charleston, South Carolina on 17th June 2015 by a white supremacist gunman who was only 21 years old, it is a hard argument to make.
Bubbly Black Girl is funny, poignant and honest, with the cast bringing strong performances each in their own right. Karis Jack’s Young Viveca was a pleasure to watch, although at times it was hard to discern the words to her songs, her voice is beautiful and strong. Sophia Mackay’s Older Viveca brought the necessary maturity to show Viveca’s growth and yet maintained the innocence so clear in Young Viveca making the transition between young and old Viveca believable and seamless.
There are so many areas for discussion and examination that the play presents to the audience. We explore issues around identity with Viveca having to deal with being called an Oreo (a dark chocolate biscuit sandwiched together with white vanilla cream) and then Young Viveca saying ‘a really good cookie,’ both of which have connotations when levelled at a black person. Suggesting that whilst they can’t get away from having black skin they are trying so hard to be other; to be white on the inside and through their actions.
We watch the struggle of wanting to believe your black is beautiful, wanting to believe those closest to you when they tell you of your black beauty but the outside voices being too loud to ignore. Those voices that pick the lightest person over you no matter their abilities; who like your hair better when it is more European looking; who tell you straight that you are not good enough as you are. Importantly, the play shows that these voices come from white and black spaces. Again showing the play is not restricted to a place in history, as these issues are still relevant today.
Questions are raised regarding whether black, or being black is a thing you can put on and take off like an article of clothing whilst trying to identify your authentic self. With issues of cultural appropriation prevalent no this is an interesting area to address. For the individual, if you are trying so hard and consistently to be something or someone else what happens to the real you that you are suppressing? This is the question that follows Viveca throughout the production.
There is something of a love story running through the play between Viveca and her childhood friend Gregory (JD Marsh), but by the end of the play we get to see that the real love story is between Viveca the bubbly black girl and Viveca the self-accepting black woman. For me the message was one of self-love and becoming truly free when you understand how people respond to your true self is none of your business, it is all their own. Very much like the title of the play and the character of our heroine Viveca the ‘uncomfortable’ issues are brought to the audience in a bubbly smile of music, dance, comedy and care. You learn some, you laugh some and hopefully you grow.
The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin is currently showing at Royal Stratford East Theatre until 11th March 2017, definitely one to catch before it’s gone. Find out more and book your tickets here.