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#Hashtag Lightie review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘funny, nuanced portrait of growing up mixed-race’

Adele James in #Hashtag Lightie at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Kwaku Kyei Adele James in #Hashtag Lightie at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Kwaku Kyei

Exploring the complex identity that comes with having a mixed-race background was never going to be easy, but #Hashtag Lightie – back for a second time at London’s Arcola Theatre after a previous sold-out run – makes it seem so.

Teenage make-up video blogger Ella (Adele James) is happy to call herself a “lightie”, slang for someone with fair black skin. As her fame grows, so do tensions between Ella and her internet trolls, as well as her siblings and their partners.

The play’s language shines when we hear from the supporting cast. Grace Cookey-Gam’s prim oldest sister Melissa moves and speaks with a truthfulness that stops her weighty race politics sounding preachy, while Jamie Richards, as her partner David, walks the line of being well-meaning but inadvertently offensive so well.

Devon Anderson and John Omole, who mix impeccable comic timing with bursts of genuinely moving emotion, both also give excellent performances. Held together by Rikki Beadle-Blair’s direction, the cast easily conveys the characters’ complex family dynamic.

Black Apron Entertainment’s on-stage video tech also illustrates the messy world of social media perfectly, but it’s Lynette Linton’s script that steals the show. Full of humour and often painful honesty, the nuance and subtlety is impressive. So too is Linton’s mastery of the different formats the characters bounce between (video blogging, spoken word and even a novel).

The play does not wrap up neatly, but it doesn’t need to. With a Q&A session after each performance, it’s clear #Hashtag Lightie doesn’t have al the answers. But it does give you the tools to ask the right questions.

Verdict
Funny and nuanced portrait of family, social media, and growing up mixed-race in Britain today
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