Black Men Walking

September 19, 2019 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆     Poetic Journey

Traverse Theatre: Wed 18 –Sat 21 Sept 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a scope to Eclipse Theatre Company’s Black Men Walking that is truly impressive. And if its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp, it is none the worse for it.

Behind that apparently prosaic title is a play bursting with ideas. Thomas, Matthew and Richard are three members of a walking club who undertake an ill-advised excursion in a wintry Peak District, seeking to escape from domestic concerns, but their story soon encompasses the personal and the political, covering history, myth and poetry as well as problems of work, relationships and racism.

Tonderai Munyevu, Ben Onwukwe and Patrick Regis.Pic: Ellie Kurttz

Rapper and champion beatboxer Testament’s script is unsurprisingly dynamic and has a tough poetic feel. Icons from WEB DuBois to Public Enemy, and stories from black British history as diverse as the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, the Tudor musician John Blanke and the Chelsea footballer Paul Canoville feature in a narrative that mixes the light-hearted and the serious, not least in reminding everyone that there were black people in England before there were any Anglo-Saxons there.

The three main male characters do tend towards the stereotype, but they are redeemed by humour and humanity. Ben Onwukwe’s Thomas, obsessed by history and stuck in an unfulfilling job, has a distinct twinkle despite the character’s frustrations. Matthew (Patrick Regis) the ‘soft southerner’ who is having marital problems, has an upright, almost schoolboyish charm, while Tonderai Munyevu’s Ghana-born Richard overcomes the character’s rather underwritten fascinations with sci-fi and chocolate and predictable backstory with real flair.

compellingly realised

They are described as ‘a posh boy, a Trekkie and an old man weirdo’ by Dorcas Sebuyange’s Ayeesha, a rapper whose appearance suddenly takes the play in an unexpected direction. The character does provide both a female perspective and a younger one, and is compellingly realised, but her inclusion does point up the play’s weakness.

Patrick Regis, Tonderai Munyevu, Ben Onwukwe and Dorcas Sebuyange. Pic: Ellie Kurttz

Her story is fascinating in itself but sits oddly with the rest of the narrative. Similarly, the mythic grandeur of the evocations of the powers of place and time, the chanting of ‘we walk’ and the weight of history, never seem fully integrated as a whole. At times it is almost as if ideas for several separate plays have been thrown together to see what sticks.

Having too many ideas is a great problem as problems go. However, the play (yet another of those ever-problematic eighty-minutes-straight-through ones) runs noticeably out of steam after a first half that is uniformly impressive.

Dawn Walton’s limpid, endlessly sympathetic direction is always more than enough to paper over any cracks, however. She is aided by Adrienne Quartly’s striking sound design and Simon Kenny’s impressive set. This does service as great swathes of the peaks, and – together with Walton’s theatrical nous and Steve Medlin’s intriguing movement direction, gives the piece a real sense of freedom and movement.

All of this means that any wrong turnings in the journey are successfully navigated in a production that is consistently surprising and always thought-provoking.

Running time 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Wednesday 18 – Saturday 21 September 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

ENDS

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