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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

"Cheeky Little Brown" at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre

"cheeky little brown”, by the Papatango Prize-winning playwright Nkenna Akunna (Some of Us Exist in the Future) at the Bristol Old Vic Studio, is a failed night out, a musical, a show about heartbreak, taking place on a journey through the city that the a young woman calls home.

The one-woman show, features Lady, a determined sharp-tongued charmer who loves her best friend Gemma as much as she loves a late-night kebab. It’s Gemma’s birthday party. The two haven’t seen each other for six months. With original songs, this coming-of-age story examines a friendship between two Black women, on diverging paths of self-love and acceptance.

It’s a story about a young woman’s resistance to change in the people and the city where she lives, and ultimately her journey toward a new beginning.

Nkenna Akunna’s monologue, directed by Chinonyerem Odimba, takes place over one night: we follow Lady (Tiajna Amayo), a 20-something Black Londoner, as she makes a disastrous visit to her estranged best friend Gemma’s birthday party. Unreliably told in the first person, their relationship is an arena where class, race and queerness are all messily entangled.

Infectiously energetic, funny and vibrant one-woman “anti-romcom”, described by its writer, the Papatango Prize-winning playwright Nkenna Akunna, as a “post-mortem of a friendship-turned-first love”, it charts the difficult relationship between Gemma and Lady, played by Tianjna Amayo.

It charts this failed night out in London, from Gemma’s 25th birthday party, to the kebab shop, the night bus, and finally back to Lady’s flat – the seismic event that has shifted their bond begins to unravel itself.

An infectiously likeable solo show exploring complicated friendships and identity, and although funny, Kunna’s writing is shot through with the pathos as Lady is blind to the emotional chasm that has opened up between them, in this bold and accessible show which reflects artistic director Nancy Medina’s vision to diversity audiences and give space to new writing.

Designer Aldo Vazquez and director Odimba elegantly reflect the messiness of Lady’s night in the staging. A shiny chain curtain is plucked apart with ease, and a set of inflatables spelling “Happy Birthday Gurrrl” is humorously rearranged.

Original songs are woven through the show, mapping the night’s slow descent from anticipation, exhilaration and bravado into drunkenness, anger and regret and as Lady, Amayo is utterly luminous and compelling. This play is one of contrasts and surprises and is really made by Amayo’s flawless performance.

"cheeky little brown" is at the Weston Studio, Bristol Old Vic on September 21-October 14 at 8pm (no shows on Sunday), and then touring throughout October. Tickets are available at

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