In a word this play is sublime. It’s so much about what great theatre is all about and goes down like a crowd-pleasing plate of soul food. It is distinctly black and rich enough for all to enjoy.
History, identity, race, politics, love, Star Trek conventions, chicken; this play switches from Gha vs Ashanti to Yorkshire vs London banter in the blink of an eye. Rapper Testament tells a provocative and poetic tail in which Thomas’ (Tyrone Huggins), Matthew’s (Trevor Laird) and Richard’s (Tonderai Munyevu) monthly hike takes an unexpected turn as they run into Ayeesha (Dorcas Sebuyange). The four are in the Yorkshire countryside to escape the various trials of life.
The intimate stage is made epic by the performers, sharp direction and set design, therefore the audience are transported to the Yorkshire Moors. The play witnesses the four leads grapple with the question; What does it mean to be black and British? Chorus, rap, poetry and singing are skillfully utilised.
I love the discussion of the role of black people in British history. Ayeesha expresses the familiar sentiment “yeah, we were slaves right?” to which Thomas replies “that’s what they tell you but there is so much more”. Thomas talks of black members of Tudor courts and an African born roman emperor who helped make York the capital of north England. Thomas argues that ‘we were here before the Anglo Saxons’. The millstones quarried by John Moore the black 17th century businessman make for a strong and evocative image. Thomas remarks that that old millstone is now part of a tree. “it now has roots and is woven into the landscape”.
If I had to offer a criticism of the play it would be the shows ending as I find it a touch on the tidy and trite side, lessening the play’s power. In the play’s last few minutes, issues are resolved with abrupt happy endings and the play might have packed a harder punch if a bit more was left up in the air.
Nevertheless, at the final curtain, I am grinning from ear to ear. I turn behind me to see that my fellow patrons are all doing the same. Despite being of different backgrounds, the sense of exhilaration is palpable. 4/5
Review written by Emmanuel Odusami.
Black Men Walking is currently showing until Saturday 7th April at the Royal Court Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…