REVIEW: Peak District setting for Black Men Walking play

A scene from Black Men Walking by Testament @ Royal Exchange Manchester. Directed by Dawn Walton.'(Opening 18-01-18)'©Tristram Kenton 01-18'(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550  Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com''
A scene from Black Men Walking by Testament @ Royal Exchange Manchester. Directed by Dawn Walton.'(Opening 18-01-18)'©Tristram Kenton 01-18'(3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com''

This co-production by Eclipse Theatre Company and Royal Exchange Theatre has been touring the country, and comes home to Sheffield – where Eclipse, committed to creating new work from the black British experience, is based.

Written by Testament, aka Andy Brooks, a rapper, beatboxer and theatre maker, and directed by Dawn Walton, it’s an entertaining and enlightening show.

Three men, Thomas, Matthew and Richard meet, the first Saturday of every month, to walk. Played with vigour and wit by Tyrone Huggins, Trevor Laird and Tonderai Munyevu, they are contrasting characters: Thomas, the eldest, a very ‘Yorkshire’ working class man with an interest in black history and memories of coming to England from the Caribbean as a boy; Matthew, a middle-class doctor; and Richard, struggling with the conflicting claims of his African roots and his present life-style.

Their walk takes place on a misty day in the Peak District. The title is a small stroke of genius: we expect a play about a group of black men, but right at the beginning, as the audience enters, there’s a mysterious figure already on the stage: a young woman in a traditional dress. As the play develops she is identified, in Thomas’s semi-delirious mind, with black people who have lived in Britain since Roman times. Played by Dorcas Sebuyange with a no-nonsense edge of independence, she is a haunting presence who eventually mutates into a young rap artist called Ayeesha – who happens to be near Padley Gorge at the same time as the men. Her interactions with the men become increasing significant.

There is much humour, but some serious points are being made. The play is a meditation on one of the lines: ‘Though we are written into the landscape you don’t see us.’ The history of Britain is one in which the black experience has been continuous for hundreds of years, but, for many political and cultural reasons, rendered largely invisible. But there is more to it than that. When it has been made visible, it has been from a predominantly male perspective. The play suggests how important the role of black women, as well as black men, has been, and, crucially, will be in the future.

The fact that the play runs without an interval reinforces the sense of continuity in the black British experience.

This exhilarating show is on in the Studio Theatre until Thursday, April 12.