Written by Roy Williams
Directed by Ben Occhipinti
It seems never-ending, the continuous cycle of abuse, outrage, action, pity and inevitable forgetting in this country towards the systemic abuse of Black lives. And for families, who told their kids that they were no less British than the rest and yet found that the institutional issues within the country crossed generations. The stories of one extended Black British family living in London is told through a series of monologues and duologue sequences in Roy Williams’ powerful new production History.
Aiming to provide a variegated view of Black Britain over the past decades, William’s newest production History weaves the lives of an extended family across forty years of the country’s turbulent history , starting with Neil, a young boy whose inaction leads to a wrongful conviction. Through a fresh perspective, the insights and changes (or lack thereof) of the UK’s attitudes towards racism are laid bare – not in a contrite manner, but in an exemplary piece of audio theatre that holds aloft its theatrical nature before all else.
The death of Diana, the Brixton Riots, Brexit, and the announcement of lockdown – these soundbites offer a sense of grounded reality, tying the production further into the audience’s comprehension, aiding in the position of the production, a shifting perspective which Axel Kacoutié and Eloise Whitmore use to bridge the gap with audiences without direct experiences growing up in Black families.
But so much more, the dexterity within Williams’ writing maintains authenticity and purpose without detracting from the theatrical nature. And though a colossal part of this lays at the hands of spectacular performers, History’s writing maintains a delicacy in storytelling, evolving characterisation and controlling a steady authority. Williams knows precisely where to cut the line and transition to another family member to further the narrative without disengaging with listeners.
Gradually, the strands pull together for an engrossing finale as the knots tighten and the narrative solidifies. Coming full circle, as the now exonerated Neil and his estranged daughter Claire meet to discuss the Black Lives Matter protests and marches in London during the lockdown. The barbs and hurt located within Cyril Nri and Amaka Okafor’s performances strikes a poignant note in their stark honesty and unrelenting pursuit of different generational ideas, the pair working off one another vigorously.
Oliver Alvin-Wilson channelling young gay black man Jordan, who comes to realise the fear is not of him coming out of the closet but discovering the truth of his father. This link between parental relationships, notable where the various male characters either fail to have significant father figures or make discoveries based around their paternal backgrounds, continues a theme in the text. The intimacy and sincerity Alvin-Wilson carries is touching, but equally as volatile when frustrated with family dynamics is Sharon D. Clarke’s aunt Gwen who causes a stir with her sharp wit and cut-throat bitterness.
What marks History as a distinctly marvellous and refreshing audio drama is the tenacity it exudes in how genuine its treatment of the narrative of Black families within the UK is. Williams never feels the need to exaggerate or strive for false precedence, and director Ben Occhipinti relies more on the calibre of the performers and script than attempting to force pathos.
History offers an insight into a sliver of the past 40 years for Black Britons. And though not directly calling for action, Williams still holds listeners accountable for the half-hearted outrage we display when another young black man is murdered but does so with the indignation of familiarity rather than a cheap dramatic push for impact. After decades of institutional racism, are we doomed to continue the cycle once more -or is it finally time for a change?
History is available to stream from September 24th – 26th, available here.
Review published for The Reviews Hub