DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored – Leeds Playhouse

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Nana-Kofi Kufuor

Director: Dermot Daly

My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored is a challenging and committed piece of work, but at times difficult to focus on. The shifts of tone grip the attention, but can be confusing, too, and the strange ending is unnecessarily melodramatic.

The underlying proposition is intriguing and a promising lead into confrontation and debate. Black teenager Reece is roughed up by police for no reason. The incident happens outside Marks and Spencer where his teacher, Gillian, also black, is shopping – Gillian’s devotion to M&S is used both comically and symbolically. Gillian ignores Reece’s pain and refuses to intercede.

In school Reece comes to Gillian’s classroom at the end of the school day and, after a few minutes locks the door so that, imprisoned in her own classroom, Gillian is forced to listen to, and try to rebut, Reece’s accusations. Initially it is mainly obvious stuff: he sees her as white despite the colour of her skin because of her meek conformity to middle-class standards. He is furious that she identifies first as “a woman”, only secondarily as “a black woman”. What we are forced to call “the ‘n’ word” becomes a subject for conflict. Reece claims that the black man owns the word – which he uses in full – while Gillian finds the word repellent and uses the prissy tautology.

Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s writing is full of energy, imagination and the ability to skewer an attitude in a single phrase, never more than in the extended role play scenes, particularly pointed when Reece and Gillian play highly satirised versions of each other, but the changes between vitriolic character assassination (and moments of understanding and revelation) and analysis of the overall social situation can confuse.

Dermot Daly’s production contrasts stillness, even relaxation, with explosions of fury while keeping Reece and Gillian distant from each other for the most part. Possibly a result of covid-related social distancing, it works in creating a slow burn of dramatic tension.

Jelani D’Aguilar is outstanding as Reece, with a wonderful physical and vocal flexibility, making an impossible character almost convincing. We can accept that this 15-year-old school hater has the ability to switch roles brilliantly, but the swathes of social and historical analysis are a step too far, though D’Aguilar delivers them with total conviction. Misha Duncan-Barry matches him as Gillian, though again there is a problem of register: she has to switch too easily from the prideful teacher (“my classroom”) to the flinger of insults – if she has reservations about “the ‘n’ word”, they don’t apply to “the ‘f’ word”. As revelations pile up about the humiliations she has endured, Duncan-Barry’s characterisation becomes more moving than one could have guessed at the outset.

After Leeds Playhouse, My Voice Was Heard… moves to Oldham Coliseum, the other main supporter of Red Ladder’s production, before touring, mostly around Yorkshire. It’s worth catching, at least once, if not more – a second viewing might well clarify just where Kufuor’s richly imaginative indignation is leading us.

Runs until 13th November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Challenging

The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. 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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