ConcertLatitude FestivalMusicReview

Latitude Festival 2017 – The Negro Problem: Notes On A Native Song

Devised by: Stew
Reviewer: Kris Hallett 

Latitude 2017 has felt like the year when art forms have blurred. Theatre has moved into the cabaret tent, cabaret into the comedy and music sets into the theatre arena. Noah and The Whale front man Charlie Fink played a selection of his new tracks to accompany a monologue regarding a journey of discovery. Sh!t Theatre sang their way through Dolly Parton. Ruth Ellis, the last lady to be hung in England, is memorialised in an album’s worth of material inspired by key points in her life.

Musician Stew won a Tony Award for his songs on the 2007 musical Passing Strange and so has some cache that would bring the theatre tyros of Latitude over. Yet, as he kept remarking, apologies for those expecting to attend a show. It’s a work of ideas, a set with something to say but it’s a bit of a stretch to call it theatre.

Instead what we get is 60 minutes of the blues that explore black leadership in 2017, inspired by the writings of polymath James Baldwin. Undoubtedly, it loses something in its transition from Harlem to the Suffolk countryside but it does present the opportunity to open up the issues to a well-heeled crowd particularly less versed in the issues it raises.

We get songs of Baldwin performing a literary takedown of his mentor Richard Wright, travelogue segues into his time in Paris and Istanbul and most affectingly a tale of a black murder in 2012 that suggest race relations are as fraught now as they were when Baldwin was writing his book of essays in 1955. Proof if any were needed that Baldwin’s ideas resonate as much now as they ever have.

Reviewed on 16 July 2017 | Image: Contributed

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A work of ideas

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