Nakkiah Lui compares An Octoroonto “a Molotov cocktail; you throw it and it explodes,” she writes in her programme notes. It’s certainly a wildly audacious, highly original, challenging play; an excoriating comedy which puts a feral cat among the pigeons with its irreverent, very funny, cringe-making, deeply provocative exploration of racism, culture and identity as well as the act of making theatre.
Written by African-American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, An Octoroonpremiered in New York in 2014 to ecstatic reviews and had a return season the following year. Earlier this year, it had a season in London.
Anthony Taufa and Anthony Standish. Photograph © Rob Maccoll
Set in the American Deep South, it puts an outrageous spin on a 19th-century melodrama by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault called The Octoroon, which was popular in its day but is now virtually never performed for obvious reasons. In a nutshell, it tells the story of George, a plantation owner recently returned from Paris, who falls in love with Zoe, a beautiful young girl, who is the illegitimate daughter of the former owner and the “octoroon” of the title – a politically incorrect term referring...