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An Introspective Take on Freedom

 

May 9, 2007. 

 

3 Stars

 

 

By Belinda Otas

 

 

John Newton is famously known as the London-born slave trader who repented of his involvement in selling slaves, and gave the world one of its most popular Christian hymns, ‘Amazing Grace.’

 

Today, he is back in a starring role as himself in African Snow. A contemporary theatrical production chronicling the life of Olaudah Equiano or as he was by his slave name, given by his slave masters, Gustavus Vassa, based on his book, ‘The Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano.’ A book that proved immensely popular during the anti-slavery campaign.

 

Intensely powerful and moving with Israel Oyelumade in the role of Equiano and Roger Alborough in the role of John Newton, two men whose paths cross; one as a slave and the other a slave trader. Interestingly, the play is set in Newton’s thought and imagination and the supposed imaginary meeting between both men gives Equiano the opportunity to question Newton.

 

 

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The confrontation between both men makes Newton, the guilt-ridden and shamed slave trader, look inward and examine his life as he seeks forgiveness for his past actions.

 

These scenes create the emotional backdrop for the whole play. Newton describes himself as “I was ignorantly happy” explaining fulfilment from been a slaver  until his conscience begins to nag him. What transpires next was  powerful enough to show the audience where both men were at different points in the play and their individual journey.

In between are monologues by Equiano to give the audience a better understanding of his story and the opportunity to experience the ills he suffered; the name calling; the beatings for refusing the name given to him by his slave masters, the pain he carries for being separated from his sister as well as his tenacity to stay and fight until he won his freedom.

 

However there are also points in the play where these monologues break one’s concentration from the action on stage.

 

The play raises questions about slavery, the treatment of slaves, forgiveness, justice and freedom.

 

When Equiano asks the question, “What is freedom?” He also tells the audience, “The moment I learnt to spell the word freedom; it was like a phoenix on my heart. Freedom cannot wait.” Symbolic of what the play is about, an introspective take on freedom.

 

The energy on stage is further heightened by the music of Ben Okafor whose score for the play evokes emotions in both characters and audience. There is rather a lot of shouting and screaming on stage but the ship contraption on stage to show the lives of the slaves was rather impressive and gave the play an element of authenticity.

 

 

African Snow is currently on a UK-wide tour after debuting at London's Trafalgar Studios .

 

For more information visit: www.ridinglights.org

Written by Murray Watts

Directed by Paul Burbridge

Music by Ben Okafor

Designed by Sean Cavanagh

Lighting Design by Ben Cracknell

Movement Direction by Clyde Bain

Cast: Israel Oyelumade, Roger Alborough, Mensah Bediako, Emmanuella Cole, Chris Jack, Rex Obano, and Kenny Thompson

 

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

 

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