Hiking through the history of black Britons
Black Men Walking, Belgrade B2, Coventry, to February 10. Revolution Mix, an initiative from the Eclipse Theatre Company with the Royal Exchange Theatre, is a programme aiming to deliver black British productions. The underlying principle is that there is more to the black British story than slavery, immigration and teenage gang crime. Black Men Walking is its first national touring production. Written by rapper and theatre-maker Testament and directed by Dawn Walton, the play is a seamless blend of stories about everyday racism and the history of black people in Britain. Thought-provoking and moving, but also entertaining, it was inspired by a real-life walking group for black men in Yorkshire. And with hilly countryside as a backdrop, it explores the depth of the black experience in Britain. The cast walk the paths trodden hundreds of years ago by their ancestors: “We were here before the Anglo Saxons”, is their claim. The three walkers are very different. Thomas (Tyrone Huggins), the oldest, came to the UK as a child, and is nearing the end of his career. Overlooked for promotion, despite working twice as hard as his colleagues, never invited to the pub or the office party, his working life had been difficult. Walking the peaks gives him a sense of place and the opportunity to share his knowledge of black history with his fellow walkers - Matthew (Trevor Laird), a British-born GP struggling with his relationship with his white wife, and techie and Star Trek fan Richard (Tonderai Munyevu) who moved to Yorkshire from Ghana.
As he says: “Before I came here I never realised I was black”. As the weather worsens and they’re caught in a snowstorm, the three meet young rapper Ayeesha (Dorcas Sebuyange). She is finding it difficult to come to terms with the casual racism levelled at her by her peers. Feisty and funny yet poignant, she shares her everyday experiences of growing up in Sheffield. The play challenges misconceptions about race and racism, and there is no shying away from the abuse commonly aimed at black people in Britain. The subject is tackled head-on, making the mostly white audience more than a little uncomfortable.
The use of comedy lightens the tone, but as the audience is asked, “How long do we need to be here before we’re considered British?” we realise that this play is important as well as entertaining, challenging what we know about the history of black people in Britain. As someone says: “Schools don’t teach you that”. It's another triumph for the B2.
For tickets go to: http://www.belgrade.co.uk/
Pictured: Tonderai Munyevu, Tyrone Huggins and Trevor Laird in Black Men Walking at the Belgrade.