Lament for Sheku Bayoh – Edinburgh International Festival

Written & Directed by Hannah Lavery

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Scotland is notable for a friendly attitude towards everyone – a land thought of as a home for any. But within a nation in which cities were built on the broken backs of slaves, where the train rides home and its politicians open their mouths and spew guttural cries of racial abuse, stereotypes and reinforces.

Retelling the headline events of the death of Sheku Bayoh, a Kirkaldy man who lost his life at the hands of numerous police officers responding to an ‘armed’ assailant. Hannah Lavery’s Lament for Sheku Bayoh reminds of the life lost and dismisses the myth perpetuated that Scotland is detached from racism.

Over the past eighteen months, thousands of us sat wondering what precisely it was we missed about live in-person theatre. And then the delayed in-person premiere of Lament for Sheku Bayoh occurred. The ferocity of raw emotion and the realisation of decimating boundaries awakened an intensity, answering what we have been missing. 

There becomes a mantra within Lavery’s script, of repetitious facts and figures from the media becoming a steady beating drum as performers Saskia Ashdown, Patricia Panther, Courtney Stoddart channel ascetic and heartfelt performances. They weave through the spoken word elements and fragmentary scenes to cut through the deception, Lavery’s writing cautioning us of the surface level tolerance we show, and the continuous reminders of racial tension and prejudice.

What momentum the production’s physicality may lack, it makes up for with the projection of words and Belinda Odenyo’s marvellous vocal score shapeshifting from instrumentals to entire vocal conjuring’s of Burns classics A Man’s A Man, Ae Fond Kiss, and Auld Lang Syne.

Weak theatre reinforces boundaries – efficacious theatre rips them down. Lavery’s production channels an unapologetic vice grip on contemporary racism within Scotland, refusing to cow down to the pressures and ideologies that even in a supposedly welcoming nation as this, there are no issues with systemic racism. And as the five pillars of neon light begin to pulse with flickers breaths, draining from the vivid blues and reds into a pale, candle-lit reflection, the monumental impact of in-person theatre takes hold across the silent Lyceum stage.

Photo Credit – Jamal Yussuff-Adelakan

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