Lament for Sheku Bayoh

Nov 20 2020 | By More

★★★★★  Essential

Lyceum online: Fri 20–Sat 21 Nov 2020
Review by Hugh Simpson

Lament for Sheku Bayoh, the Lyceum’s online co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival, is a work of huge impact on many levels.

Bayoh’s death in police custody in Kirkcaldy in 2015 seemed to be conveniently ignored by many in Scotland, but returned to the news after the killing of George Floyd. No-one has ever been called to account for his death; five years on, his family have never received any answers, with a long-awaited inquiry finally taking place not set to rule for several years.

The cast of Lament for Sheku Bayoh on the Lyceum stage.

Courtney Stoddart, Beldina Odenyo (Composer and Sound Designer), Patricia Panther and Saskia Ashdown. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

This response to Bayoh’s life and death by writer-director Hannah Lavery is an unsurprisingly tough watch for several reasons. Not only in its dissection of the events of his death, but also because it confronts the casual racism implicit in the stereotype-driven media coverage and the wider response.

This is a welcome corrective to far too many recent expressions of Scottish exceptionalism which seek to downplay any kind of racism as something that ‘doesn’t happen here’. And, just as the ending of the slave trade was often fought out in court cases more about economic value than human suffering, the debate about surviving symbols of Scottish involvement in that trade show that many place a higher value on the lives of statues than of actual people.

uncomfortable truths

While these uncomfortable truths are starkly portrayed in Lavery’s script, there is also a poetry and rhythm to it which is deeply affecting.

A uniformly excellent cast of Patricia Panther, Saskia Ashdown and Courtney Stoddart express a huge range of emotions and do justice to the poetic and intellectual rigour of a piece of writing that combines the immediacy of verbatim or documentary theatre with genuine craft and artistry. This is a meshing of political and personal concerns that often makes for an uneasy mix in the theatre, but succeeds unequivocally.

Beldina Odenyo (Composer and Sound Designer), Patricia Panther, Saskia Ashdown. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Anger and conviction are here, but also stark beauty and ambiguity, represented by the music of sound designer and musician Beldina Odenyo – aka Heir of The Cursed – notably in some gorgeously filigree settings of Burns (himself, of course, not an unambiguous figure regarding Scottish racism).

This is unapologetically an online presentation of a staged theatre piece, with all that entails. Some of the detail of Lavery’s pin-sharp direction is lost, and it would surely have even more impact in a live setting. Nat McCleary’s movement direction is not always done justice, with the odd bit of wobbly camerawork proving a distraction.

This cannot dilute the impact of the production, however. Kirsty Currie’s design, the lighting of Emma Jones and Ellie Thomson’s video design all contribute to the stark clarity of a necessarily disquieting, profoundly affecting and humbling piece of theatre.

Running time: 58 minutes
Royal Lyceum online
Friday 20 and Saturday 21 November 2020
Evenings: 8pm; Sat mat: 1pm.

Details and tickets at


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  1. Suzanne Senior says:

    Have just seen this and would agree with Hugh! A very powerful and important piece of theatre, with a beauty of language, music and design. I watched it on my iPad with my headphones, making the immediacy as good as it could be without actually being in the theatre. Apparently there are also plans to show it in schools.
    The only downside was that I wasn’t contacted with the link to the post-show discussion, although I’d booked – I had to phone the box office and was finally connected.