Review: Black Men Walking

Image: Tristam Kenton

Four black characters walk across the Peak District, exorcising the troubles they have in life while 2,000 years of black history is revealed to us.

Written by rapper ‘Testament’ (AKA Andy Brooks) after being approached by black-led touring company ‘Eclipse’, ‘Black Men Walking’ is a play based on a real Yorkshire walking group. The beautifully integrated stories push back at the eternal press of history, filling the centuries of silence about black history in Yorkshire.

‘Black Men Walking’ is as much a catharsis for the audience as it is for the characters, who let out their struggles to each other and the audience through dialogue and mirrored historical events. Mixed with poetry and ancient sounding melodies, the play uses each stage element to its full extent, till you can almost taste the Yorkshire air. The refrain of ‘we walk’ is mesmerising, and the physical theatre of representing walking without actually going anywhere is performed fantastically, as are the broad Yorkshire accents.

The racism explored exposes the profound roots of prejudice in our country

The characters burst with hyper-reality and their connection with the audience is strong, a tight wince rippling through us during Ayesha’s half-rap on a racist slur she was confronted with. Thomas’ plaintive cry of ‘how long do we have to be here before we are English’ was also felt deeply. The racism explored exposes the profound roots of prejudice in our country, but through the strength in claiming the land as their own, the characters grow in force until nobody can tell them that they don’t belong.

Captivating and emotionally cleansing

This play and its message are truly powerful. It questions the ideas of belonging and identity while showing how representation within history is as important as in our media. Captivating and emotionally cleansing, this is a play for those who love being transported to another place and time through theatre, while keeping grounded in the questions of today. On your journey out of the theatre, you might breathe in the taste of history along with the stage smoke, a history to share and pass onwards. If we base our judgements on a far-off past, we should fill this past with stories of all people, so we can move forwards to an inclusive future.

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