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Rough Crossings


4 Stars


Wednesday, October 3, 2007.


Review By Belinda Otas


It is the American Civil War and slaves who were brought over from Africa desert their masters to join the British army with the promise of their freedom. However, after the war, they find themselves in Nova Scotia, and the promise of freedom, unfulfilled.


Feeling betrayed and abandoned, Patrick Robinson in this role as Thomas Peters takes it upon himself to fight for the justice of his people and travels to England to demand justice for the way they have been treated.


Set across three continents -  Europe, North America and Africa -Rough Crossings is the compelling true story of freed slaves sent back to Africa in the hope of deciding their own destiny. Based on a book by the historian, Simon Schama, adapted for the stage by the criticaly-acclaimed writer, Caryl Phillips and directed by Rupert Goold, the play  is about vision, betrayal, prejudice, courage and fight for freedom at a time when slave trade was the most profitable business in the western world.


The tilting stage, which symbolises the sea and journey of the slaves to the different places they find themselves before returning to Africa, gets your attention when you walk into the theatre.


The use of old Negro spiritual hymns and songs, adds a depth of humanity to the characters and helps the audience to experience their pain. The use of movement, scenic backdrops and video clips to represent the different transitions in the play also did the production justice.


The cast delivers a powerful understanding of the story and of their individual characters as well as their ability to take on more than one role.


Patrick Robinson (Thomas Peters) gives an outstanding performance as a charismatic character whose voice of opposition cannot be ignored. He is a man who is sure of himself and strength, and though he is seen by the others at some point as being contentious, he believes in his own self-worth.


“I’m a man not an object to be cast aside once someone decides he has no use of me”, as poignantly put to David George (Peter De Jersey) who serves as a priest to the slaves and bring a godly perspective to the story.


While Rough Crossings is enthralling and thought- provoking as it explores cultural arguments which are still deeply rooted on both sides of the Atlantic. It is also told from a multi-dimensional point of view; the Americans who lost their slaves and wanted them back, the British crusaders, who fought for the abolition of slavery and the freed slaves themselves.


On the other side of the coin, it feels like an ensemble of messy acts joined together by the magnitude of the subject matter known as the slave trade. If you are not conversant with the original story, it feels muddled up and takes a while to work out the point you are at with the play.


It certainly could have done with more depth as to what happened to the slaves upon their arrival in their new found African Utopia. The audience is rather inundated with a succession of events as John Clarkson (Ed Hughes) tries to restore order and keep two opposing sides at peace.


The White settlers who run the Sierra Leone Company and the freed slaves who want more from their home soil and feel the British Government has ignored them and fallen short on promises made. While the sum total of the story culminates in Sierra Leone, it also raises the question of what it means to be free and at liberty.


Although, the stage production fails to deliver on the same level of narrative vigour with which Schama tells the story in his book, it is still an imaginative and innovative attempt to recreate history on the stage.


Main picture: By Manuel Harlan


Rough Crossings is now showing at the Lyric Hammersmith, London, until Saturday, October 13, 2007. This will be followed by UK-wide tour including Liverpool and Leeds. It has already being staged at The Birmingham Rep Theatre.


For more information, visit: http://www.lyric.co.uk


Box Office: 08700500511


Written by: Simon Schama


Adapted for the stage by: Caryl Phillips


Director: Rupert Goold


Designer: Laura Hopkins


Composer and Sound Designer: Adam Cork


Video & Projection Designer: Lorna Heavey


Movement Director: Liz Ranken


Casting Consultant: Kirtsy Kinnear


Assistant Director: Vik Sivalingam


Assistant Designer: Simon Kenny


Cast: Peter Bankole, Miranda Colchester, Peter de Jersey, Ian Drysdale, Dave Fishley, Andy Frame, Rob Hastie, Dawn Hope, Ed Hughes, Mark Jax, Jessica Lloyd, Michael Matus, Wunmi Mosaku, Ben Okafor, Patrick Robinson and Daniel Williams.


Belinda Otas is a London-based freelance journalist and The New Black Magazine's theatre editor. She can be reached at belindaotas@thenewblackmagazine.com


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