This Bitter Earth by Harrison David Rivers. The White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 to 11 March 2023. 4****. William Russell

Black lives matter but in different ways to different people. This moving and very well acted two hander directed by Peter Cieply getting its UK premier is one not to miss. Jesse (Martin Edwards) is a black man, a playwright who is well aware of the problems faced by African Americans but reluctant to get involved. Neil (Max Sterne), is white, volatile, passionate about causes and joins in the demonstrations against the killings that are taking place. It is 2012 and the black teenager Trayvon Martin is shot by a white neighbour simply because he looked suspicious when heading home. It took until the following year for the killer to be arrested and after he was acquitted the Black Lives Matter campaign began. It is against this background of young black men dying at the hands of the police in particular that Jesse and Neil who live in Minneapolis fall in love and must face up to what is going on around them. The question is when the earth bears bitter fruit how do you find your voice? Jesse finds his voice.

Martin Edwards creates a splendidly stubborn Jesse, a man who takes refuge in his work, who cannot understand why this sexy and slightly fey Neil should want to demonstrate – they split up after Neil has sex with someone in the aftermath of a demo only to reconcile. Max Sterne is volatile and unpredictable Neil – he has a terrific moment at the demo when the pair first meet after he finds to his surprise he has a megaphone to hand and must address the crowd. Together they manage to create the depth of the relationship they build between two contradictory people. Things do not end well but Jesse ends wiser. The play gets rather complicated as the time line is not followed chronologically – we meet them at different times in their relationship – which become confusing possibly more so for British audiences than those in America. However the play looks at how the relationship is affected and deepened by events neither can control very effectively and Ciely directs it with skill exploiting the small space of the White Bear to perfection. There is nice spartan set by Isabella Van Braeckel which allows them to move from the safety of home to the dangers of the streets and some effective background sound to help set the scene as the action moves from their home to the outside world.

Jesse: Martin Edwards.

Neil: Max Sterne.

Director: Peter Cieply.

Movement Director: Gareth Taylor.

Lighting Designer: Chuma Emembolu.

Sound Designers – Cieply & Emembolu.

Set & Costume Consultant: Isabella Van Braeckel.

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