Kit Harington stars as outrageous Slave Play hits London – our verdict | Theatre | Entertainment

The clue is in the title. The absence of a definite or indefinite article suggests that Jeremy O Harris’s play may not be all that we expect.

And so it is, or rather, isn’t. One of the most controversial plays ever to appear on Broadway it arrives in Britain with pre-packed provocation. The presence of Kit Harington as Jim, the only English character in an otherwise all-American play, is a smart piece of trans-cultural casting. Harington proves once again that he can hold the stage as well as anyone and goes beyond the call of duty by getting his, er, kit off in the final scenes.

Director Robert O’Hara’s production displays trigger warnings that include nudity, simulated sex and more N-words than a Tarantino movie. Set in two eras – to say more would be to spoil a coup de theatre – it opens in an antebellum Southern plantation where relations between slaves and masters and/or mistresses is complex, to say the least.

An extraordinary amount of sexual shenanigans takes place (intimacy director Claire Warden had her work cut out) that leads to an interrogation into miscegenation, ie sexual congress between different races.

But not everything in the play is black and white. Colour, race, desire and the fallout from interracial relations are the meat of the play but there is nothing obvious in its presentation. On a mirrored set the characters are reflected (as well as the audience), emphasising the sense of voyeurism.

In the present day, arguments between the three interracial couples are guided by two female observers – one black, one white – whose own power dynamic is far from comfortable. It’s all very clever stuff and what saves it from disappearing up its own fundament is a wicked sense of humour and some startling imagery.

When Jim cannot tell the difference between a cantaloupe and a watermelon you know you’re in the hands of a playful playwright. The character of white actor Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer) who insists he isn’t white in order not to offend his black boyfriend Gary (Fisayo Akinade) adds a further element of mischief.

Most satisfying of all, Harris has enormous fun eviscerating therapy speak and the dangers of psycho-sexual intervention. It’s funny, clever and undoubtedly challenging, though neither as outrageous nor profound as it would like to be.

Slave Play is on at Noël Coward Theatre until September 21

Tickets: 0344 482 5151

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