CENTRE STAGE… A CELEBRATION
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX 21 July 2013.
Ran: 1hr 30min
Review: by Carole Woddis of performance seen 21 July.
A truly significant event.
Where would British theatre be without the black contribution? No Carmen Munroe, no Mustafa Mutura, Winsome Pinnock, Alfred Fagon or Roy Williams. No Norman Beaton, Lenny Henry, Clive Rowe, Paulette Randall and many more.
As part of the 50th anniversary, all this week the National Theatre has been celebrating the contribution made by Caribbean and African artists who came to this country hoping to tell their stories and found themselves instead shut-out and only slowly accepted by the mainstream. Easy to forget now when integrated casting and black writers are so much more the norm.
But it was not always so. And it is thanks to actor Giles Terera that ‘Walk in the Light’ events of this week, culminating with the Sunday afternoon performance involving a veritable roll-call of Britain’s leading Black actors has served as a fitting reminder of the history and struggle of those who have gone before.
Moving and uplifting and kicked off by Sharon D Clarke, immense in voice and stature in high gospel mode, excerpts from plays by Matura and Fagon were followed with snippets from contemporary writers such as Rikki Beadle-Blair, Nathaniel Martello-White and Bola Agbaje whilst Clive Rowe and opera singer Melanie Marshall raised the singing roof.
Fascinatingly, put side by side, the plays revealed the change in language and rhythms over 40 years, if not the anger and sense of injustice.
Earlier writers gave voice to disappointment with `the mother country’ through a gentler humour allied to cricket or ways to con customers in second hand street markets. Now the language is tougher, more hard-edged, the street and personal violence more apparent.
Statistics too are telling. It took 40 years for a Black writer to be staged at the National whilst the Thatcher years took a disproportionate toll on Black British theatre companies.
The sheer talent on the stage spoke for itself, with three moments standing-out as inspirational and sobering: Noma Dumezweni reading from Pinnock’s Talking in Tongues (Dumezweni should surely by now be nationally recognised as one of the country’s finest actors); David Harewood reading Neville Lawrence’s statement about the way he and his wife were treated on the day of their son Stephen’s murder and Terera’s epic poem, `I’ll Walk With You’, summarising the people and the eras that had gone before with eloquence and pride.
Walking on the shoulders of giants, yes indeed.
Now, what about an event celebrating the equally enriching contribution to British theatre of Asian artists?
Cast of thousands included:
Performers: Jimmy Akingbola, Adjoa Andoh, Tobi Bakare, Rikki Beadle-Blair, Chipo Chung, Sharon D Clarke, Peter de Jersey, Noma Dumezweni, Clint Dyer, Carys Eleri, O-T Fagbenie, David Harewood, Lenny Henry, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jenny Jules, Trevor Laird, Alex Lanipekun, Tunji Lucas, Melanie Marshall, Nathaniel Martello-White, Paul J Medford, Tanya Moodie, Ruth Negga, Cyril Nri, Ashley Rolfe, Clive Rowe, Giles Terera, Ony Unhiara,
+ The Walk in the Light Mass Choir
Director/Musical Supervisor: Nathaniel Morrison.
Musical Director: Alex Williams.
Also on keyboard:
Wendy Gadian, Clement Ishmael.
With readings from plays by:
Bola Agbaje, Rikki Beadle-Blair, Alfred Fagon, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Nathaniel Martello-White, Mustapha Matura, Nigel D Moffatt, Courttia Newland, Richard Norton-Taylor, DeObia Oparei, Caryl Phillips, Winsome Pinnock, Roy Williams.
The National Theatre holds an online Black Plays Archive catalogue for the first professional production of every African, Caribbean and black British play produced in the UK. www.blackplaysarchive.org.uk for more info.