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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Black Men Walking
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs  Spring 2018

Three Sheffield men meet monthly to trek through the Yorkshire countryside, on this occasion meeting and being joined by a young woman. 

All four are black (and the play is inspired by an actual Black Men's Walking Group), their race investing their walk with doubly symbolic meaning. 

As one explains, they are literally putting their footprints on the ground, affirming their right as Britons to be there, and are also connecting with a racial past, walking in the footsteps of other black men who have been on this ground, from eighteenth-century freemen back to Africans who were part of the Roman invasion. 

Those are both strong and potentially resonant images, but the crippling limitation of this play by the rapper-playwright who uses the name Testament is that we are only told them and never shown them. 

Only one of the four, the eldest, feels this significance to their walking, and his explanations generally fall on deaf ears as the others are too involved in their own lives and racially-related issues to have much time for mythology. 

One man is having problems with his white wife while the other is alienated from his African father, and the girl is young enough to be angered by the daily experiences of petty and casual racism the others hardly notice. 

The older man's insistence that their day in the country is a political act has little meaning for them. Nor are the mystical resonances brought onstage in any literal or symbolic way. 

What we see is the quartet either walking in place or trudging around the stage. They get lost in fog and snow, and one almost falls off a cliff, but they get back home safely and get on with their lives, not particularly affected by the day. 

The play's potentially powerful images remain in one character's mind and of no real value to him, while we in the audience have been told about them without ever experiencing them theatrically. 

Director Dawn Walton never creates a connection between what we see and what we are told it means, and only actors Tyrone Higgins as the older man and Dorcas Sebuyange as the girl are able to develop any depth or reality, the others (Trevor Laird and Tonderai Munyevu) stuck with roles that are little more than plot devices there just to be talked at, without any real identity as characters. 

Playwright Testament is to be credited for finding two resonant images for this story, but he leaves them imposed on the story rather than growing out of it, and never successfully brought to theatrical life.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Black Men Walking - Royal Court Theatre 2018  
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