Words: Simon Button; Image: Passion Fruit
Showcasing his semi-autobiographical play Passion Fruit at London’s New Diorama Theater, Dior Clarke proves to be a bright new talent who is well worth keeping an eye on.
Clarke is a North Londoner and a British Jamaican graduate from the ALRA drama school, who states in the program that he wants to shine a light on untold stories and whose other credits include the short film Batty Boy about coming out in the Black community.
But, as Clarke states at the start of the play, ‘This isn’t a coming out story’. Instead, he tells us, it’s a love story and more specifically one about self-love. It’s also about homophobia, toxic masculinity, demonisation of Black youth by the press, gang violence and sexual awakening among many other things.
Photography: Cesare Di Giglio
In a show co-written by Stephanie Martin and ingeniously directed by Melina Namdar, Clarke plays the hero Romeo – a Black gay man and aspiring drama student who we first meet as a five-year-old in 1998 on a North London estate where he lives with a tearaway brother, a loving mother and a hateful father. Then we pick up his tale his as a young teenager who does eventually come out to his mother his. “Mum, I’m gay,” he tells her. “I know,” she says, and that’s pretty much the end of that.
The dialogue in the first act is shotgun fast (sometimes a little too much so for us to get our bearings) and often scream-out-loud funny, such as when Romeo bats away bullies who think he might be gay with a boast about getting so much pussy some of it is from out of space and some of it hasn’t even been born yet.
As a playwright Dior is more interested in how Romeo negotiates his sexuality than how he announces it to the world, as becomes clear in the second, more focused act. Now a young adult, he moves away from home and finds himself in a whirlwind of queer clubs, saunas and chemsex parties.
Photography: Cesare Di Giglio
Dior is a fearless and fabulous performer, whether twerking up a storm to Destiny’s Child, directly addressing the audience as he bares his claws and his soul, or delving deep into a character who funny, ferocious, overbearing at times and lovable at others.
Playing his friends, family members, taunters and tricks, Charlotte Gosling and Hayden Mampasi are remarkably good at flitting between the different characters who encircle Romeo on a journey that eventually takes him to… Well, that would be giving too much away but I’m happy to say this is a rare queer dramedy that doesn’t descend into heart-tearing pathos.
And Romeo is a rare queer character, one that we seldom see skirting the action let alone taking center stage. Rough around the edges, the story of his life his so far could do with some refining but it deserves a bigger audience once this initial run is finished.
Passion Fruit is at the New Diorama Theater, London until 19 March. Visit newdiorama.com for more information. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.