CentralDramaReviewSpoken Word

Obama and Me – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Writer: Sylvia Arthur

Reviewer: RL Bartholomew

Sylvia Arthur used to be a dynamic Brussels-based communications strategist whose task was to promote the controversial Fourth Freedom – unrestricted movement of people inside the Euro zone. Black, efficient, and articulate, she could have been a poster girl for a thoroughly open, outward-looking Europe. Instead, Arthur discovered – just like Obama did in the United States – that Black idealism and lofty dreams can make new friends, but simultaneously stoke prejudice that is both ancient and insistent.

Coupling video footage with fiery polemic, the writer delivers a tour-de-force on her soul deflating sojourn in the Euro zone, a place where outright racism and Xenophobic nationalism do battle with the dream of social integration.

Wearing dreadlocks and resplendent in a jazzy, red dress, Sylvia Arthur stalks the stage in this one-woman show like a freedom fighter at the dispatch box. One could hear a pin drop as she highlights the parallels between her own doomed attempt to help realise the Free Movement ideal, with Obama’s epic stateside battle to achieve a more perfect union. “Who are the peoples of Europe?” asked this Black European who laments both Brexit and the EU’s shameful failure to honour its own ideal.

It is forgivable to think that a show dealing with weighty themes such as race and geopolitics would find best expression in front of a capacity crowd – with perhaps post-performance discussion groups. Happily, Arthur’s staging at the Old Joint Stock is more than satisfactory. The minimalist setting comprises a TV monitor, a chair and sundry European flags which are in turn draped across the set, or, provocatively, laid out on the floor, objects of the performer’s fury and sadness and the audience’s own unspoken speculation. Further, the small venue aids light audience participation – members are asked to read aloud snatches from news reports that piled new pressures on Arthur’s EU endeavors.

Good use is made of lighting to punctuate a narrative that flows back and forth in time, and which criss-crosses Africa, Europe and Britain. Effective use is also made of dark and light to suggest myopia and insight.

Sylvia Arthur is a novice in theatre, and sometimes it shows. On this occasion, her diction, while generally clear, faltered in a few places when she was clearly overcome with emotion. And in spite of the pain, what is really cheering about this unusual production is its coda, which can be summed as: we really need to break down racial barriers, stupid.

Reviewed on 18 October 2017 | Image: Michael De Leon

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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