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:

Hitler’s Tasters – Greenside Infirmiry

Written by Michelle Kholos Brooks

Runs at Greenside Infirmary, August 5th – 24th (Not 11th or 18th), 18.35pm

Fifteen women would carry out, what they consider, a job of notoriety and honour during World War II. With the risk of assassination peaking, they would dine on the foods of the Third Reich, no steak of course. They were guinea pigs. A first-line of defence for the Fuhrer from his enemies attempts at ending his rule. They were Hitler’s Tasters.

Until 2012, there was no confirmation of their existence, when the final living member Margot Wölk spoke out. The production, billing itself as a dark comedy, reads more like a drama with comedic elements. It’s a fascinating concept, three women confined to a cinder-block room. Where boredoms, jealousy and illuminating ideas of American film stars set in.

Hitler’s Tasters has another, important message behind its historical tale. Its a look at the banality of evil, seamless triumph in stirring hate, and how gullible people are when requested by their President Fuhrer. Originating from the States, though entirely coincidental, the American voice hammers in transparent warnings we should recognise with 1930’s Germany.

There’s a trend of technology bleeding into a contemporary commentary. Selfies and Madonna were not the expected pass times of the women subject to this job. In a world of ‘insta-famous’, the decision to include phone-obsession for these women, who were still girls oversteps. The concept, the idea that they could be famous for their role in protecting the Fuhrer is an ingenious insight into young women’s influencer aspirations. The constant selfies over-stay their welcome though, belittling the weight of the production.

Here we have Hitler’s Tasters misstep. Dark comedy works at its best when paying respect to the subject. Comedy is the focus over story-telling. A shame, as Mary Kathryn Hopp, showcases a pathos, a genuine tear-building whenever the illumination of the guards bursts into the cell. The entire female cast has a tremendous sense of sisterhood, even when turning on one another.

With laughs, Michelle Kholos Brooks’ script misses the beat. Perhaps, at the risk of sounding pretentious, there’s a loss from their American audiences. For the UK, offence is a currency. A few moments are good jokes, punches which stir middle-class sniggers rather than bellyaches. Rushing pace, jokes don’t land as neatly as there’s a sense of sweeping it off the ground before causing insult.

Frustratingly, Hitler’s Tasters is a tweak from a contemporary, brass-neck smack at historical repression and the resurgence of political manipulation. As it stands, the ingredients lay on the counter – a starter awaiting a few more spices before serving the main course.

Tickets available from:

Photo credit – Cody Butcher

Casanova – Festival Theatre

Choreographer: Kenneth Tindall

Original Scenario: Kenneth Tindall & Ian Kelly

Decadence and debauchery: terms that readily come to mind when thoughts turn to Giacomo Casanova. For many, this image is synonymous with adultery, womanising and sexual deviance. Instead, Kenneth Tindall’s adaptation for the Northern Ballet company’s production of Casanova offers a look at the passion, pain and grandiose lifestyle behind the name.

From the ensuing prologue until the closing grand ballabile, the strength, ferocity and talent of Northern Ballet is monumental. The memoirs of Casanova are often documented as one of the most insightful references into social practices of 18th century Europe. To condense twelve volumes into two hours is commendable, it charts Casanova’s ‘fall from grace’ during his early priesthood, through Venetian court to the birth of Casanova as the entertainer, gambler, adventurer and author.

Unlike more traditional ballets, there is no female lead. Instead, the company comprises ballerinas who play pivotal roles such as the Savorgnan sisters, who have the initial hand(s) in Casanova’s corruption. Rather, Tindall and Kelly have been clever in their use of the ballerinas, Bellino and Henriette, Casanova’s two major lovers, both masquerade as men, one out of necessity, the other fear.

The success of the story of Casanova is down, primarily, to Giuliano Contadini. From the entrée, Contadini makes an impression. His physical strength and delicacy are enviable. Commendable too is Contadini’s acting ability. Following an emotive and personal pas de deux with Hannah Bateman as Henriette, in which her affair is revealed to her husband, we witness Contadini’s visceral explosion of rage. From conventional light pieces with the sisters and Henriette to a more modern influence of heavily stylised symbolism with the monks, the range of movement is expansive, Contadini and the company rising to all challenges.

This precise movement only reaches such elevated visual heights with the help of complementary lighting, score and design. Indeed, to say that Christopher Oram’s work is awe inspiring, borders on simplistic. Combined with Alastair West’s lighting, what is generated is an ever-evolving atmosphere. Skeletal gowns of all shades, drape the dancers.

Oram’s costumes, used in tandem with the lighting, further instil a sense of wonder and depth. Penetrating bursts of red assault, quite suddenly, the darkness from the Head Inquisitor, then suddenly vanish into the blackness. Madame de Pompadour’s lavishness contrasts heavily with the bound chest of Bellino. What is achieved with these dissected costumes is a paradoxical balance between the majesty of 18th Century glamour stripped back to expose the technique and artistry of the ballet beneath.

Casanova is a production devoid of fault. It is a piece of sublime art, accessible to all and one that should be re-lived and shared.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Production information:

Photos Guy Farrow, Emma Kauldhar, Caroline Holden, and Justin Slee.