Black Men Walking – Traverse Theatre

Writer: Testament

Director: Dawn Walton

Every breath of the landscape in this country echoes the lives of thousands across history. Beneath the soil, the lives of the rich, poor, women, men, Romans and black men and women lay forgotten to but a few. On the first Saturday, of every month, Matthew, Richard and Thomas walk these peaks – through two thousand years of history to find themselves, disconnect from technology, and in Thomas’ case – to reconnect with the past.

Profoundly lyrical, this first-time production for Revolution Mix is written by Testament, woven with intense word-play and tremendously honest humour. Without strong-arming, everything feels quite natural in the rhythmic chats between the characters. Testament’s piece perfectly emulates the desired effect of blending periods – to merge generational discussions; Alyeesha’s confusion over Thomas’ obsession with the past contrast with his disbelief in her lack of interest in her cultural history.

Maintaining a respectful nature – Black Men Walking also allows itself a brief insight into masculinity, in a rejuvenating light, tying the aspect of men returning to the land with the shadows of black men who performed in the courts of Henry the VII, were millers for the Romans, all while lampooning of the same concept of grown men’s boys clubs.

Delightfully charismatic, the titular men (as well as one straggler) perform their roles sincerely, drawing us in. Even with the dreary weather – you would have little question in enjoying a stroll with these people. Ben Onwukwe’s Thomas is a stoic role, a suggestion of fragility which evolves to us rather than slapping our faces – gradually building a rapport with Ayeesha, a young rapper who is perplexed by the men’s apparent ‘pleasure’ in walking.

As we wander through centuries of Black history on these Isles, Dorcas Sebuyange lowers a barrier of truth, though one we are all ashamedly aware. That some still find an unjustly perverse ‘right’ in determining whose home this is. Her injections accentuate the lyrical quality, showing a progression from mantra-like chants of before, into a new communication of rap, poetry and spoken word.

It is Trekkie-fan Tonderai Munyevu’s Richard, who is given the funnier lines, delivering them with conviction. An odd script, the jokes are borderline predictable but fit, especially when playing off of the home-stresses of Patrick Regis’s Matthew, whose body language flips when portraying the passive, phone obsessive father of two.

Complimenting the spoken word, Dawn Walton’s movement direction reinforces a spiritual aspect of history, bringing gravity in the repetitious ceremonies of these men’s monthly walks. Incorporating Simon Kenny’s design, an opaque barrier is put up at the back of the stage, serving as transitional cover for performers – or distorting space, entrapping characters in gorges or allowing for an unforeseen paranormal force.

And while the men may convey a sense of steady movement, there’s a loss of scale in Kenny’s design – a charming build, capturing the feel of the landscape, enriching colours with an awoken earth backdrop, but fails to reinforce the unforgiving landscape.

Tempest’s script is touching, without relying on exaggeration or melodrama. It relies on the, perhaps, unknown knowledge of the black men who built Britain, that there is a history buried beneath us, found in the milestones which have been denied or forgotten. It’s the sort of production you wish everyone could see, opening a dialogue away from ignorance through calming, story-driven theatre.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/black-men-walking-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

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