DramaNorth WestReview

Black Men Walking – Royal Exchange, Manchester

Writer: Testament

Director: Dawn Walton

Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin

“We walk” repeat the chants of Thomas, Richard and Matthew as they head out into the misty wilderness of the Peak District. Inspired by a real walking group for black men in Sheffield, Black Men Walking marks a collaboration between Eclipse Theatre and Leeds-based rapper, writer and performer Testament. Directed by Dawn Walton, it is part of a programme called Revolution Mix which is a three-year programme to deliver new black British productions to reveal that there is more to the black British story than slavery or gangs.

The rest of the walking group has bailed due to the weather but Thomas, Richard and Matthew decide to tackle the elements regardless. They have joined together to explore their countryside and, by doing so, explore and define their sense of selves. The packs upon their backs may hold their nibbles and water but these men carry heavier baggage; relationship troubles, neglected families, loss of purpose and the weight of being a dual consciousness – both black and British.

The repeated moments in which the characters have to greet ‘hello’ to other passing walkers and silently absorb the reactions and looks they receive as three black men out in the countryside were poignant and pointed. However, the dialogue between them verged into lecture as they took it in turns to explain their perceptions and experiences of being black men in Britain. The same story of a black Roman Emperor was told in conversation, a breakaway spoken word monologue moment, and in a further lecture at a younger character. This repetition felt heavy-handed and reduced the impact of the storytelling that black men have walked the hills of Britain for hundreds of years.

Stylistically, the production feels slightly confused. A partially opaque screen at the back provides opportunity for movement sequences, surreal experiences or connections with the ghosts of their racial history embedded in the earth around them. These moments are theatrically interesting and embrace the surreal and magical, combining with beautiful singing/chanting of the cast to create the mood and atmosphere. Yet, the remainder of the show is very text-heavy and the characters do not feel developed or three-dimensional which is a shame as it rather negates the aim of the production to explore the black experience with depth, sensitivity, and humanity.

Runs until 3 February 2018 | Image: Tristram Kenton

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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