Black Men Walking

18/09/19

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Eclipse Theatre Company’s Black Men Walking tells the tale of Thomas (Ben Onwukwe), Matthew (Patrick Regis) and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu), three disparate friends on a monthly mountain walk. What they have in common is their race, and their need to connect with other black men living in their area.

The oldest, Thomas, is fascinated by his ancestry, by black people’s place in British history. Matthew, a doctor, is more concerned about his family life: his wife, Vicky, is resentful of the time he’s spending with his friends; she wants him home with her and the kids. Richard is placid, a computer programmer/Trekkie with a penchant for snacks. Sometimes, Richard explains, there are a lot more of them in the walking group. Today’s trio are the hardiest though, or the ones who need the expedition most. Because today’s weather conditions are treacherous.

As the men share stories and bicker and lose their way in the gathering fog, we’re drawn into their world, offered some insight into their experiences. And, just as we’re beginning to wonder where this is all heading, their easy camaraderie is punctured by the appearance of Ayeesha (Dorcas Sebuyange), a teenage rapper who’s fled to the hills for solace, following a racist encounter in a fast food outlet.

Written by Testament and directed by Dawn Walton, this is a lyrical play with a lot to say,  unusual in its positioning of middle-aged black men at the centre of its narrative. The poetic voices of the ancestors add a welcome layer of history to the piece, thrown into sharp relief by Ayeesha’s teenage cynicism and dismissal of Thomas’s most rhapsodic musings.

The staging is unfussy: a green covered slope suggesting a hill: a glass panel that acts, variously, as mirror, fissure and portal; a collection of millstones representing the past. I like the simplicity of the on-the-spot walking that hints at longer distances covered, and the placing of all four in a landscape that is clearly, physically, theirs – an answer to Thomas’s anguished question: ‘How long do we have to be here to be English?’

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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