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Decolonisation: not just a buzzword – Bhuchar Boulevard and The School of Oriental and African and Studies University of London

Reviewer – Dominic Corr

Creator:  Sudha Bhuchar

Director: Kristine Landon-Smith

A cautionary titbit of information: Decolonisation – not just a buzzword contains some sensitive wording and discussions – so deal with it and realise that the examination of the brutality of colonialism isn’t to be watered down. Presented by Bhuchar Boulevard and The School of Oriental and African and Studies University of London, Sudha Bhuchar’s creation pries open the doors on the discussions of decolonisation, turning the gaze back onto those who have profited and continually fail to grasp its importance.

Not strictly political, Bhuchar’s intention flows more into personal everyday opinions and expressions, encompassing all sides of the discussion, and arguably is more valuable than any political spiel. Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith, the hour-long show finds seven speakers reciting the words of staff, faculty, and members of SOAS, expressing their unfiltered words live as they first heard them.

Decolonisation falters where the likes of Gary McNair’s Locker Room Talk excelled. McNair’s original production in 2017 took the live recordings of men and children as they discussed women – a similar concept to Bhuchar’s idea. What Decolonisation lacks is the hook for the audience, the recognition and black mirror. The discussions of language, hegemony and foreign domination parcelled as ‘victory’ aren’t as clean a subject for the audience to connect with. It is a side of history they haven’t seen or refuse to acknowledge. The recitation of their words lacks a punch, a performance aspect which can both respect the words of those interviewed but sell them in a way to entice listeners.

What they capture though is the wealth in diverse opinions – whether we agree with them or not. As students, teachers and funders across the world rightly cry for the decolonising of physical space, misplaced adorations, and curriculums – there will always be those who cannot understand why the symbolic severing of a statue amounts to more than vandalism. Kristine Landon-Smith’s direction correctly offers no filter for the voices recorded, enabling a broad stroke of ideas to be communicated.

Infusing the testimonials of the campus residents and alumni offers a personal, and occasionally less than flattering look into the inner conversations of SOAS. A transformative piece of art, Decolonisation seeks to punctuate the reparations and reflections we take in our national and continental history, particularly those who gain privilege on the broken backs of men and women across the colonies.

Winding down, Landon-Smith makes the decision not to reach a natural conclusion. Since the Black Lives Matter movement’s origins, to the ongoing struggle of lives which still matter, voices have become clouded and mingle with the naysayers and lobbyists’ ignorance which perverts the intended message. The finale of the show reflects what we sit with now – a vital movement, which is screaming out against a torrent of ignorance, but where the voices of reason drown in the sea of numerous misunderstandings.

The speakers begin to talk over one another, the articulation failing and the victors emerging, not out of diction or clarity, but from volume and impact. A deceitfully callous, if ingeniously harrowing, way to end the production serves as a stark reminder to the loss of momentum caused from out –of-control conversations. With work, particularly on the theatrical, Decolonisation could transfer the words and emotions of those who took part in a package that offers ease of access. For now, its place as a record of the reformation into our glorified history requires a different dressing to draw out the conversation.

 Reviewed on 24 October 2020

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