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The Theatreguide.London Review

Salt
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs    Spring 2019

Selina Thompson's lyrical monologue Salt, performed by Rochelle Rose, is the story of a journey. One that began in Britain with a lifetime of being nudged by racism.

Some of that racism was obvious, like the shout of the word 'nigger' by a child. Some of it, like the sudden silence when she entered a small village pub in Yorkshire, was less defined.

Other things she heard about in 2014 were also pushing her towards making that very long journey across the world. There was the Fergusan protests, the shooting of twelve year old Tamir Rice and the police getting away with the murder of Eric Garner.

She says she is a 'walking wound . . . a raw nerve left exposed.' She has always lived in Europe where 'Every penny of wealth, each brick of each intimidating building…is built on suffering, massacre, death.'

Such thoughts lead her to take the physical journey to the slave triangle of Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, the existence of which shaped the historic racism she still suffers.

On route she encountered further racism from border officials who regard her as especially needing to be checked and a white ship's master who thought it clever to repeatedly refer to 'niggers' and to explain to her that African people are 'feral children'.

We hear her observations of the places she visited and of things her dying aunt told her of the shocking way things were in the past.

Speaking about the time she spent on the cargo ship she expresses her feelings by smashing on stage a huge slab of salt with a sledgehammer. Placing nine pieces in a line, to represent the sources of her pain at that time, she names them, from the alienated crew of the ship to the malign pressures of imperialism, as she smashes each in turn with the hammer.

The play's movement is also an emotional one, from Selina's bitter rage touched with cynicism to a place close to despair where, recalling .all that it took to bring her there,' she decides to go on living insisting that 'There is work to be done. And we must go on.'

The play, in giving poetic witness to her experience, is part of that work, not simply by naming the way the world is felt, but also by helping to shift attitudes that allow it to remain that way.

Keith McKenna

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Review - Salt - Royal Court  Theatre 2019