Ghosts – National Theatre Scotland

Written & Directed by Adura Onashile

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Surrounding the Merchant City, a construct name for an area of Glasgow, once Scotland’s centre of economics and culture, are the skeletons of its cruel and absent-minded past. A city constructed on the foundations of slavery, these frames are not the bones of the nameless men, women and children brought into Scotland, but of the buildings, streets and plaques which scar the city with the limited acceptance it demonstrates with what has enabled so many to live in relative comfort and privilege. The National Theatre of Scotland has never been one to shirk the responsibility in promoting diversity, more importantly spotlighting our own inability to accept Scotland’s crimson hands in the slave trade.

And as shoppers and tourists peruse the boutiques, cafes and stores, the statues and markings do not pay tribute around the lives of the slaves and black men and women who lived, worked and persisted but instead the contributions made by the likes of tobacco influencers Archibald Ingram and John Glassford; or plantation owner Andrew Buchanan. A history still hushed and fleetingly acknowledged, writer and director Adura Onashile has constructed an app-based walking tour Ghosts which will transform the way we walk in histories’ results.

Leading audiences across the city in a manner they have yet to experience, through the eyes and movements of a young man in the 18th century, a man never really found refuge or the origins of his name. Like so many others sold and traded into service, this young man’s identity has been cast to the ashes and the fogged amnesia of the countries’ attitudes towards the history of slavery, racialised wealth and status. Onashile’s arduous task of forging 500 years of rebellion, history, protest, and atrocity into something tangible is a mammoth undertaking that seeks to write their stories back into Scotland’s history.

Ghosts guides listeners on a seventy-minute journey through these absent echoes, conjuring their legacy from the dust and stone. Lyrical in points, with a structure of spoken word, Ghosts takes a less dramatic and fabricated stance in authenticity. Detail is present but lacks a sense of the specifics seeking more to maintain interest and engagement. Neither a dramatic re-telling nor documentary, Ghosts drips the historical connections as a feed, challenging us to draw the results ourselves. It is neither the job nor duty of black creators to educate primarily white audiences – it is the audience’s job to educate themselves when inspiration and reality strikes.

But moments which do conjure a sense of momentum and movement are present; actor Reuben Joseph sparks much of Ghost’s sentiments of identification as the young boy sold into ownership as a piece of furniture – part of a deal with a billiards table. The sincerity in Joseph’s performance, much like that of Lisa Livingstone’s role as a woman talking to her unborn child aboard the rocking bowels of a slave ship, is genuine in understanding carrying wrought with a delicacy of hope.

Crumbling the Gallery of Modern Art into rubble; scribing the cursive names of those forgotten as they drift over the River Clyde, Bright Side Studios’ Susanna Murphy and Cristina Spiteri manipulate the physical plane of Glasgow into an augmented reality of melodious nocturnes and painful howls. At first, the minute details suggest a lacklustre AR project, but as the Hutchesons’ Hospital becomes the foundations for a 360-degree sprawling map of the city, the realisation dawns on the imposing task and impressive detail behind Ghost’s construction. The metaphorical breakdowns of slave trader William Cunnignhame’s home, the street names metamorphosing into a call to action of the present crimes against black communities, all set to Niroshini Thamber’s still sombre soundscape beats.

Sitting isolated in Glasgow’s Virginia Court, nothing but shimmering cobbles to reflect the silence of a still locked-down city, the reality of Ghosts’ weight presses into the consciousness. With so many doors and street signs observed countless times with only a passing glimmer of the roots in their name, it’s time to face the reality of Scotland’s history. This isn’t merely history – this is the present. This cries to the persistent erasure of black lives and legacy and sits as a monumentally powerful piece walking the streets in another’s shadow across a city we share and love with so many nameless others.

Ghosts will run from Arpil 26th – May 9th and will be available to download from App stores from April 26th. Accessbile for Android 8 and iPhone 6S and above devices for £4.99.

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