White review at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh – ‘Deeply personal and innovative show about race and identity’
Koko Brown once joined a Black Lives Matter protest by mistake. She turned a corner and was swept up in the chanting and stamping of feet. But the politics of skin colour have always been personal to Brown. The complex, often divisive, heritage of being mixed-race, “as white as I am black”, is something she has had to navigate both in terms of who she knows herself to be, and other people’s expectations.
White is a blend of gig-theatre and spoken word that follows Brown’s personal evolution. Over a tight, brilliantly constructed 45 minutes, she explores the process of finding herself without having to pick a side in the face of a world that insists she choose between the inherited culture of her Jamaican father and Irish mother.
A charismatic artist with full command of the stage, she examines what it is to be true to yourself when people repeatedly reduce you by half. She is framed by Martha Godfrey’s lighting, which achieves a West End-worthy rock-star atmosphere in a shipping-container fringe venue.
Brown blends lyrical styles using live vocal mixing. She throws down punchy slam poetry then smoothly moves to soaring vocals. The piece could be carried on the power of her words and delivery alone, but is elevated by its plotting, which leads you on only to loop back again in a way that constantly resets your assumptions. Brown makes you laugh, but then she makes you hold that laughter up to the light for closer scrutiny.