This play is currently on at The Tricycle Theatre London, and what an absolute gem it is.

Written and performed by Colman Domingo, A Boy and His Soul is the story and ‘soundtrack of a boy’s coming of age in ’70s and ’80s Philadelphia.’

Jay, the central character, rediscovers the vinyls of his youth in the basement of the house he grew up in. As he replays the records, each track frames a memory and a chapter in his life. The music that he was born into was that of soul:

‘My Soul Music is my sanctuary, y’all…Soul Music is my life.’

We hear music from The Three Degrees, Switch, Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire, Aretha Franklin, amongst many others. I have never really been a soul fan. I think I might be now.

Finding it unbelievable that his parents abandoned this music of memories, Jay queries:

‘How could they leave this music behind? A lot of albums were warped and damaged but they still had glory on their grooves.’

Against the backdrop of soul music are played out the lives of Jay and his family, and the importance of music for all of them. For Jay’s mother, Edie:

‘In an instant, with just the sound of a song, I saw my mother’s thoughts leave the modest backyard of the low-income row house…With just the sound of that song, I saw my mother leave poverty, and worry, and sadness, and hopelessness of being a black woman on welfare in 1978 with three children who makes a little money cleaning houses…’

Speaking of his pop, Clarence:

‘My stepfather Clarence is what I would call a con-negro-seur of Soul Music.’

Jay’s sister, Averie, takes control of her own words:

‘I’m a Nigga! I don’t put on no airs for nobody, I like my music loud and my men tough as HELL.’

And finally, his brother Rick:

‘My brother Rick would be in his bedroom primping for his pimping to the sound of the Isley’s.’

The script is funny, often hilarious. It is also tender and sad, and ultimately very moving, particularly towards the end, as both Pop and Edie near the end of their lives:

‘Maybe, my pop a strong black man didn’t have a way to cope with my mother’s diagnosis. Instead maybe he desperately wanted to leave this earth, before the woman that he loved grew more ill and he was left to deal with the deck that he had been dealt.’

Domingo is extraordinary. He owns the part and revels in the performance. Consequently, so does the audience. Domingo mesmerises and seduces you into his world, one that is imbued with soul, in every sense, and with hope.

From Edie:

‘Just because you wish for it don’t mean it won’t come true. Just Believe. Hold tight and hold open your hands!’

CQ

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