- Soho Theatre (Online)
- Available online now
Multiple times in the last few months — we had heard from pundits in UK, that racism is a demon cached to a distant past. That it is currently standing on its last leg across the pond and is soon to be cast into the annals, until all that remains in the real world are the statues of slave owners.
We heard from political leaders from both sides of the house, from technocrats and bureaucrats, and even from the people in our daily day to day life - that Britain is cut differently. That it has always been against tyranny! Like any porridge served up by politicians, it comes as a mixture of truth and lies. Right after the January insurrection in the United States, we even had an editorial in Felix titled 'Never here', arguing (hopefully) that as long as there remained a remnant of passion for this patch of green earth, our Albion, we could never see the same thing happen here - whether it was referring to insurrection or polarization, one is not sure. All this discourse perplexed me – because as a brown male in London, I see the same cinders around me and fear we are not doing any better, but beauty is in the eye of beholder I guess — Watching this play, I cannot help but wonder if it was specifically designed for them.
... perhaps if enough people watched this then (2019), we would not have spent all summer talking about statues and spent a bit more time talking about the colossal disaster than was the pandemic handling
After all, we had our very own Christopher Ibikunle Alder before there was a George Floyd. Back before 'woke' was a catchphrase and around the time when our current prime minister was catering to right wing pundits at the Spectator. But I digress, and this is enough context I believe, for if none of this is self-evident to you, this show is sorely needed indeed.
This show, about the powerful real-world tragedy of Christopher Ibikunle Alder, the black UK army veteran who was brutally assaulted back in ’98 in a racial crime and left to bleed to death, listening to the mocking of police officers in a station in Kingston upon Hull, right here in our very own Britain is as chilling as it is morally devastating.
The one-person show starring Richard Blackwood, in its run span of 60 minutes takes us through the final day of Christopher Alder though with a touch of artistic license.
Any play’s reception hangs on the work of everyone involved, from the playwright, director, set designer and the actors… But a one-person show (in my opinion) is shouldered disproportionately by the actor and the playwright. There must be equal energy in the performance and in the dialogue, as together they must carry the soul of the show. It is therefore a relief that these two aspects stand out in this stellar play. Ryan Calais Cameron, who wrote the script (which toured in the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019), has peppered the dialogue with heaping of charm and wit, which is then beautifully weaved in by Blackwood in delivery. There is no point in the show where it moves slowly, no impending tirade, no sentimental overture espousing the right and wrongs befalling black men. Rather in typical fashion — it is subtle — we are invited to look through the eyes of the victim and see for ourselves that often at times they are not even allowed to claim victimhood or their own abuse.
With a minimal set and no other distractions, the director, Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, lets the artist and the script take centre stage — and takes full advantage of the presence of a camera here (as opposed to the usual theatrical performance), allowing Blackwood to deftly address the viewer at pressing junctures without overdoing it, and engages proactively with multiple angle cuts — providing a layer of fluidity to the show that is very welcome.
I might be overdoing it but in the context of the show, just as important as it is to point out the mastery of the craft of the artists (all of them included) there is a particular need to praise the handling of a subject and their willingness to give it a platform! Typical, the word meanders throughout the 60-minute play — piercing the viewer every time the character is the subject of a racial stereotype, one that in any other circumstance we might have been ignored as a harmless joke. What is striking here is how clearly, they have been able to show the cumulative psychological effect of this through the day.
One thing I must stress is that this play should not be accused of bandwagon-ism. In truth the show had a short theatrical run in 2019, well before the current Black Lives Matter movement gained steam. So, in so many ways the show was ahead of its time, a-typical again. Perhaps if enough people viewed it in its first run, we would not have people spouting non-truths and propaganda all last summer — perhaps if enough people watched this then, we would not have spent so much time talking about statues and spent a bit more time talking about the colossal disaster that was the handling of the pandemic.
In typical fashion, all that’s history, ready to be swept under the rug — and its’ a bit too early to talk of statues to the current chalk of 'leaders’ — so until then — spare the change and watch this show. It is devastating and brilliant in its deft handling of the subject; masterful, witty, and crafty in bringing a monologue to life — and is brimming with talent.