07 November 2019, The Tablet

Arinzé Kene's Little Baby Jesus is a remarkable revival


Arinzé Kene's Little Baby Jesus is a remarkable revival

Rachel Nwokoro in Little Baby Jesus
Photo: Ali Wright

 

Little Baby Jesus
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Seeing a theatre poster advertising Little Baby Jesus in the run-up to Christmas, we might suspect a nativity play, but Arinzé Kene hasn’t written that. His drama does, though, eventually turn out to be a religious story, although in an oblique and original way.

Premiered in 2011 – but now revived after the West End success of Misty, Kene’s self-performed verse drama about racial tensions – Little Baby Jesus interweaves long contrapuntal monologues from three recent inner-London school leavers.

The two boys represent polarities of masculinity. Rugrat, with his canary yellow trainers and tie-knot as fat as a cravat, is a mouthy, confident class clown; Kehinde, is quiet, studious, agonisingly shy. The girl, Joanne, is smart, but carries family damage and the social lose-lose of being mixed race: too black for the whites, not black enough for the blacks. The trio also portrays, as required, parents, students, teachers, boyfriends or girlfriends, when they crop up in the others’ anecdotes.

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