Half-Empty Glasses

11/08/22

Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Toye (Samuel Tracy) is sixteen years old and good at just about everything he turns his attention to. A piano exam for a prestigious private school is fast approaching, and his best friends, Ash (Sara Hazemi) and Remi (Princess Khumalo), have learned to accept that he has to devote long hours of his spare time to piano practice. But not everything in Toye’s life is perfect. His father is gradually declining, thanks to Parkinson’s disease, and Toye is grimly aware of a gulf opening up between them.

And then, after reading a whole pile of books about black history, Toye suddenly decides he wants to change the world – to become a black activist.

He enlists Ash and Remi to help him and holds an impromptu meeting at his school at lunchtime, talking about black cultural icons, but quickly realises that it’s not enough. He has to reach more people, make real changes! His increasing obsession alienates first Remi, who – as head girl – feels compromised by his planned events, and then Ash, who is of Middle Eastern descent and is aware her own issues are being side-lined. Toye struggles on alone but is in danger of putting his musical ambitions at risk…

Half-Empty Glasses by Dipo Baruwa-Etti is a fascinating and beautifully nuanced play that gradually exerts a powerful grip over the audience’s emotions, making its complex themes easy to navigate. The depiction of Toye’s father – either Hazemi or Khumala speaking quietly into a microphone – is a simple stroke of genius, effortlessly demonstrating the distance between father and son. And I love Toye’s reactions to the music he’s making, the way it orders his world, helps him to navigate his way through life. When things start to go wrong, the discords this generates are genuinely jarring.

Sensitively directed by Kaleya Baxe and with superb musical input by Roly Botha, this is an absolute delight from start to finish. Hats should also be raised to the young cast who, as well as starring in Half-Empty Glasses are also appearing daily in two other superb plays at Paines Plough, working their collective socks off. We’ve yet to see a disappointing production at Roundabout and this year their offerings are flying particularly high.

Don’t miss your chance to see what they have to offer.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

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