Creator: Selina Thompson
Directing Support: Dawn Walton
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
In February 2016, Selina Thompson decided to trace one of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle, beginning with a three-week crossing of the Atlantic ocean on a cargo ship. The result of this journey is Salt, Thompson’s one-woman show playing over four nights at the Arnolfini as part of Mayfest.
Walking onto stage pulling a sack containing a large piece of rock salt and the necessary tools with which to break it, Thompson begins by telling us a little bit about herself. She is 26, she is a black woman, she is from Birmingham, and she wants to scream when people ask her where she’s “actually from”. From here, with the aid of voice recordings, visuals, various props, and extracts from essays she’s written, Thompson leads us back through her memories.
Despite the warmth and wit she exudes as both a performer and a speaker, from the off this is a deeply personal piece that questions what it is about race and racial identity that still divides the world. From the abhorrent attitudes she comes up against on the cargo ship, to the spoiled beaches of Jamaica covered in plastic bottles, Thompson is trying to make sense of it all, trying to make her peace with the way the world views her because of the colour of her skin, and all the while daring to question why.
There’s something raw, and yet hopelessly monotonous, exhausting even, about her experiences – whether she’s working her way down a line of pieces of broken rock salt, each representative of a link in the chain of imperialism, smashing them with a sledgehammer, or collecting pieces of the set from the sidelines as she goes, slowly piecing together a fractured landscape, or a memory, that she can inhabit once again.
There are moments when some of this imagery feels a little misplaced, and the jarring way in which she groups together the Italian officers and Filipino crew of the cargo ship while simultaneously addressing issues of race, could, in her own words be described as “problematic”.
At still just 26 years old, however, Thompson is a wonderful writer – poetic, lyrical, and impassioned, and in Salt has created a bold, unapologetic piece of political theatre. One that deserves the attention it demands.
Runs until: 19May 2016 on selected dates | Image: Contributed