TRCH Nov 19

Review: Black Men Walking at Nottingham Playhouse

31 October 19 words: Adrian Shaw

The Eclipse Theatre Company presents...

First, some germane points arise:  Is it a case of ‘protesting too much’ (vide ‘Macbeth’).  Also - ‘What’s it all about Alfie?!.’   Is this Event –and its original initiative, at all worthwhile? ‘It’s all been done before’.  And, if you’ve got a strong culture, you can ignore the dominant one – it’s got nothing to do with us...’

For example, from one Rasta’s viewpoint – why bother at all?  “I’m not British anyway...I have my own culture and don’t need to try to identify with the national one, which rejects me.  And is this self-justification necessary?...”   If so, why now?

Some said of the Play, and the origins which underpin it, is that it’s a worthy initiative, but not necessary.  However, I, and many others disagree. Currently, NAE have on two Shows which indicate the debt owed to fighting men and women of Colour from the Colonies & Commonwealth, that  supported ‘the Mother Country’ in two World Wars  And the Play (and Story), was inspired by real events. Initially, in 2004, a large group walked for male health, and then last year, again, an all-black party of men was formed in Sheffield, and walked the Peaks. It’s something that was/is completely unexpected by majority British Society. Such an event would be the cause for critical comment, and surprise, although a liberal society would deny it being unexpected.

But we’re about to enter the Second ‘Enoch’ time, Post-Brexit – and already the run-up is littered with Racism from Bulgarian attacks on our footballers-of-colour, and even recent domestic versions – such as the racist chanting and assault of Haringey FC’s goalkeeper just this past week, by Yeovil Town travelling supporters...Political discourse is set to become more ugly, now that the Country is approaching a deciding General Election, with racially-based abuse of candidates of Colour.  Although it’s not done – in educated, sophisticated socialist circles - to draw on ‘our National Game’ as an indicator to politics – like all ‘vox populi’  it is still useful..

The opening of the Production shows minimalist design (which I think the Playhouse team are excellent at) –with a huge person-sized glass screen, or more accurately ‘spiritual & temporal portal’ as a very dramatic visual aid - & ‘star-trekky’ to the idea of  Thomas (Ben Onwukwe) - the central character of the three men. He is an older black Yorkshireman – who , through this, and preliminary encounter with the Female (Black –garbed)  Spirit, later Ayesha  (Dorcas Sebyange) – sets the tone in the Play to the fact that men (& women) of Colour – have been here at least longer than Britain’s Anglo-Saxons.                            

It is a verifiable fact that the emperor, Septimus Severus, and some of his legionaries were black. The legionary garrisons on the Great Walls (Hadrian’s & Antonine’s) - separating them from the Northern Celtic tribes - included men from a different geography and source entirely from their white fellow-rankers...                                    

It should be remembered, from an historical viewpoint – that Rome, and its power, were on the point of being destroyed by Hannibal – the African war-leader of the Carthaginian Empire. Had he done so, our ‘European History’ would have had a completely different path and nature...

As the British Empire (which modelled itself on the Roman) did, it’s a good idea, if you’re bent on colonising the World – to employ as soldiers subject-peoples who had almost defeated you in your conquering endeavours..Also, it’s a good idea to ‘divide and conquer’ - Another idea that Great(er) Britain’s Empire took from Rome...  And part of the dialogue deals with differences between the three male walkers - (later joined by the ‘Spirit Figure’) as a teenage female rapper (who is a self-reliant, assertive character with her youthful confidence). The party, under near-disaster on their walk -  deal with their differences (domestic and political) ... Thomas is accompanied on the Walk by Matthew (Patrick Regis)  - constantly phoning his white partner on his mobile – checking-in with her, and indicating his dependency and need for verification, and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu)... In the end, the Thomas leads them all to safety, after initially himself beginning to lose his self-confidence, with the help (invisible to us) of the people – vanished African legionaries and the rest – which protect and guide the Walkers. On this walk, they seem to go back deep into the past, before they finally find themselves moving forward  - into increasing clarity, safety and expectance...

One thing that’s evident, is that the walkers (notably the two younger men) bring their troubles to the Walk – and their struggle is within, dealing with their doubts and difficulties – as well as overcoming the risk by uncertain foggy, shaley footpaths, through rocky schists, granite and basalt (the geology is also mentioned by Thomas).. As someone of Colour (in my case Tamil-British origins) who himself has walked the famous Irish ’Wicklow Way’, I can testify to the fact that such an endeavour also can result in long-lasting friendships between the natives and the walker, and the overcoming of prejudice with the innocence of human-interaction and enquiry...

So the Play, here, becomes extremely topical and useful with its coincidence with ‘Black History Month’, and several of the audience I heard discussing the production, were teachers hoping to incorporate this into their school-initiative...It was an entirely worthwhile theatre-visit.

There is a very good Programme accompanying the Play, and well-worth reading for information about its background and characters.

The Play as Progenitor:

 And finally, I should note that, inspired by this Play, which is touring several cities, there is a local Nottingham-based ‘Black Men (& Women) Walking’ Group – members of  ‘Eclipse’, which organised this Event.  The Walk incorporates ‘well-being’ through ‘mindfulness exercises in warming-up. Our first walk, a couple of weeks ago, was in the grounds of Woolaton House.  It was thoroughly enjoyable, and friendships and links were made, since, like the Play, conversation flowed!  Hopefully, this will be a regular monthly occurrence!  And, from a male-health viewpoint (as a 70 plus year-old prostate-cancer sufferer, and bi-polar myself) – it is doubly important and necessary...

 If interested, contact NAE (T. 01159248630) and speak with either Parmjit Sagoo or Kyle Suters, the organisers.  However, the Event was not instituted by NAE – but through Eclipse members.

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