Black Men Walking
Sep 25 – 28, 2019
Having done a fair bit of hillwalking in Scotland and further afield, I was intrigued by the premise of this work – in 25-plus years of trudging through rain, hail, sleet, snow and the occasional sunny day, I’ve never exchanged passing greetings with a black fellow-hillwalker. I’m not sure how that fact plays out statistically-speaking, but I guess it is true that black people are under-represented amongst the Berghaus brigades.
Three titular black men meet once a month to walk and talk and relieve their urban stresses. But this weekend, as they stumble through heavy weather they find themselves confronting much deeper than their workaday problems. There’s Matthew the GP (played by Patrick Regis) who’s having marital problems, and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu), a Ghanaian man living in the mental exile of an absent father, and Thomas (Ben Onwukwe), a busted flush with a history degree from Huddersfield, who has been a little unsettled recently. Losing themselves in the deepening fog, they encounter Ayeesha (Dorcas Sebuyange), a streetsmart young woman who provokes the men to consider how ‘British’ culture swallows up their blackness like the fog, erases the mark of black peoples’ footprints on the landscape, from prehistory to the present day.
There’s a lot for an audience to consider in this work by Testament, the writer and musical director Andy Brooks. “Black people were walking here before Anglo-Saxons” remarks Thomas, who gives the group a peripatetic history lesson in the hidden, ‘whitewashed’ history of these islands. There’s some philosophising to – from black identity and the theories of W.E.B. Du Bois, the American sociologist and founder of the NAACP, to the political activism of rap music. The reality of modern racism is never far, it rises continually like a Brockenspecter, or the crunch of a boot on gravel, just out of sight. The most powerful testament to this is delivered in the pistol-quick spoken word pieces given to Ayeesha. Powerfully delivered with sass and charm by Dorcas Sebuyange, these interstices that punctuate the walking are the most powerful parts of the work. It’s a sobering reminder that, aside from the prejudice de jour of islamophobia, British black people have suffered and continue to suffer under the homogenous whiteout of casual racism.
Walking is a great democratic invention. Rich or poor, black or white, it’s only requirement is the ability to put one foot in front of the other. If you can do that, then do. The next time I go walking, I’ll be giving a thought to the history, the hidden history, that I might be walking through. Eclipse Theatre Company presents Black Men Walking as part of Revolution Mix (www.eclipsetheatre.org.uk/revolution-mix), a series of plays, radio dramas and a forthcoming film, by Black artists, with the aim of “placing Black narrative at the heart of British Theatre”. It’s a powerful, promising start for a worthwhile and timely project.