#Hashtag Lightie by Lynette Linton, at the Arcola Theatre (review)

#Hashtag Lightie is a very modern story set in the YouTube and technology generation, highlighting prejudices about race and identity that are as old as time. Ella (Adele James) sets out to become an internet sensation with her make up videos, naively using the name Hashtag Lightie to refer to her light-skinned appearance. Things start well, but it turns out that some people find the implication offensive that Ella is only attractive because she is light-skinned.

hashtag lightie pic

Photographer credit: Kwaku Kyei

It all goes downhill when, in excitement at her sister’s engagement, Ella films her own mixed-race family and releases the footage on her channel. Through her different siblings and their subsequent relationships, Lynette Linton‘s script not only brings out each of the themes, but in turn chews them up, rips them apart and spews them out.

Each performance in #Hashtag Lightie is excellent, with empathetic brother, Aaron (Devon Anderson), and hilarious Bradley (John Omole) of particular note. As Bradley, Omole seems to have hardly considered the fact that his “caramel queen” fiancée, Ella’s twin sister Aimee (Sophia Leonie), is the product of two cultures. After a few drinks with David (Jamie Richards), who is both sister Melissa’s (Grace Cookey-Gam) boss and boyfriend, he lets slips some choice comments, including whether a person can be considered to be black black.

The audience is totally submersed in the goings-on throughout the play, either erupting with shock or applauding loudly at some of the racist remarks or connotations. Director Rikki Beadle-Blair‘s design and video technology helps to support this integration between audience and actor – Ella records videos straight onto her phone, which throws out the image in triplicate onto a large screen upstage. There are mock Instagram and Snapchat profiles; there are vox pops of Lightie’s fans and trolls; and there are brilliant cameos from Omole and Richards as other YouTube stars.

Through #Hashtag Lightie, we are shown some different views of being mixed race, due to the different age groups of the characters -wherever you fit in the melting pot of life, it brings up new nuances to the subject. As the mother of mixed race children, I have considered many of these themes before, but this show reminded me how little I really understand about the subject. Hearing phrases about being loyal to your black side; making a choice over your side when you choose the colour of your man; being more black than white; discovering for the first time that you are not white; being a different colour than your children – these all give some serious food for thought. Yet none of it is done in a preachy way – it is enjoyable, moving, touching and just shocking enough.

In a post-show Q&A, Lynton highlights that mixed race people in the media are often portrayed as the ones who are confused about their culture and identity. However, in #Hashtag Lightie, it is the black and white characters who seem to be the confused ones. Hearing Lynton’s words makes me want to show this show to my kids – not only so that they see a version of themselves on the stage, but also to realise that they too could write inspiring work like this.

hattydaze rating: ****/*****

I went to see #Hashtag Lightie courtesy of a press ticket, and originally wrote this review for Miro Magazine.  #Hashtag Lightie runs until 2nd December 2017 at the Arcola Theatre. For further details see their website. 

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