THE NORTHCOTT THEATRE – TILL 12 OCTOBER 2019 AND TOUR
BLACK MEN WALKING
RUNNING TIME – 80 minutes – No interval
Northcott Box Office – 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 9 OCTOBER 2019
‘We Walk. We Walk. We Walk’ goes the song, the beat, the rhythm, as three black men trudge across the hills and peaks on the Yorkshire/Derbyshire borders. Every month they do this in a group of up to 30; connecting with each other. However, on this occasion the weather is not looking so good, so only 3 turn up – Thomas, Matthew and Richard; three men of distinctly different ethnic backgrounds and different associations with the country they call their own. As the men traverse the countryside on a Roman Road, they look at their own roots and identities – being black and English – they remind themselves that one of the builders of York itself was the Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus; born in Africa – ‘We walked England before the English’ one of them exclaims.
As the mist rolls in they come upon Ayeesha, a young black woman, looking for her own level of peace in the hills; a rapper and jewellery maker, she is of a different generation to the men – their comfort in their lives is not reflected in her own. Racial and cultural prejudice are features of her life – she pricks the conscience of the men, waking them out of their own complacency. Not everything is rosy in the garden.
Black Men Walking is written by rapper, Testament, and a production by Eclipse Theatre Company and is now on a second UK tour. It’s exploration of Black history in the UK and the continual pockets of racial prejudice is presented in a unique fashion using a simple hillside set, a ‘two-way mirror’ and an excellent soundscape from Adrienne Quartly.
Directed with a gentle hand on the tiller by Dawn Walton, it is performed with vigour by Ben Onwukwe, Patrick Regis, Tonderai Munyevu and Dorcas Sebuyange as they chatter and chant their way through the country they claim as their own.
It is difficult not to appreciate the approach and sentiment behind the play, though it does suffer some shortcomings. The pace for the whole 80 minutes (without interval) never really varies; one longs for some more peaks and troughs – actually more bursts of rapping or chanting would have made a difference. Some of the visuals; the initial appearances of Ayeesha as she moves in slow motion amidst the men, unseen, is perplexing and unexplained. Ayeesha’s character also appears to be a cipher for something – conscience? Black history? The younger generation? Maybe all 3? Discuss!
In Black History Month, this is a great chance to take have a new perspective on the ethic and cultural make-up of the British Isles and Black Men Walking gives us a chance to reflect on this and how issues still exist, but the approach makes it less accessible and engaging that it should or could be.
THOMAS – BEN ONWUKWE
MATTHEW – PATRICK REGIS
RICHARD – TONDERAI MUNYEVU
AYEESHA – DORCAS SEBUYANGE
WRITER – TESTAMENT
DIRECTOR – DAWN WALTON
DESIGNER – SIMON KENNY
LIGHTING DESIGN – LEE CURRAN
SOUND DESIGN – ADRIENNE QUARTLY
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – RACHEL BENNETT