Katie Worrell reviews ‘Black Men Walking”s ‘Poetry, Passion and Politics’ at Northcott Theatre.
Walking into the Northcott theatre on Wednesday 9th October, I had three questions:
1. Should I have accepted the offered straw for my very full cup of coke?
2. Is it ok to start eating the ice cream before the show even starts?
3. Does a set composed of luminous purple lights, a mysterious figure on a tree stump and a strange two- sided mirror set a tone for a good performance?
The answer.. A resounding yes to all three.
Based on a real walking group, The Eclipse Theatre Company’s production of “Black Men Walking” (directed by Dawn Walton and written by rapper Testament) follows the story of Thomas, Matthew and Richard (Ben Onwukwe, Patrick Regis and Tonderai Munyevu) on their monthly hike through the Yorkshire countryside encountering along the way Ayeesha (Dorcas Sebuyange), an up-and-coming MC who questions the motives of their journey.
The three men use this walking group in different ways; for Thomas, the history teacher, it’s a way of getting free, of getting lost in nature. Matthew attempts to distance himself from (or perhaps forget) his marriage woes, whereas Richard at first seems to have a genuine love for the scenery (and the Kit Kats sold in the local cafe). Forced to deal with perilous weather and their own internal conflicts the production deals with the subjects of prejudice and identity in a way that was both creative and emotive – particularly through Sebuyange’s captivating and witty delivery of Ayeesha’s recount of her experience with racism.
“Forced to deal with perilous weather and their own internal conflicts the production deals with the subjects of prejudice and identity in a way that was both creative and emotive”
Throughout the production the poetic monologues take us through thousands of years of black history; from the Roamn Empire to the present, combining physical theatre with chanting melodic voices to shape the landscape they see.
The passion and honesty of the characters is as riveting as it is empathic. The audience is kept invested every step of the way, whether from listening to Onwukwe’s resounding tones as he agonises over answers to his history, or from Regis’ sincere portrayal of heartbreak and domestic pressure, to Munyevu going from Star Trek fanatic to a heart wrenching monologue about his stern and distant father who disowned him after his move to the UK.
“At its heart it is a play about home, identity and proving that whatever the action, however small, it can change a life.”
Testament has managed to interweave different experiences of bigotry and ignorance in a way that contradicts every insult and pathetic reason as to why someone of colour cannot be British. It points to the flaws in the all too relevant cries to “get back to your country” with the simple cry of “We have always been here! We walked Britain before the British”. At its heart it is a play about home, identity and proving that whatever the action, however small, it can change a life. Ayesha goes from mocking their society of walkers consisting of “posh-boy, trekkie and old- man- weirdo” to realising the importance of knowing the history of your country, knowing she comes from a long line of “Queens in Bronze”.
“We walk” they chant, walk to reclaim the land, reclaim their history, their identity. They walk so that the next generation feel confident in their own countryside as many others before them did not. This piece of theatre combines politics, music and poetry to create a must see performance.