Playground Theatre, London – until 18 January 2019
This week (15 January) marks what would have been Martin Luther King Jr’s 90th birthday. Commemorating this, Christopher Tajah’s solo show Dream Of A King (which is directed by Bernie C. Byrnes) makes its debut at the Playground Theatre in west London.
Taking place on 4 April 1968 – the day that Dr King was assassinated – we find he’s alone in his hotel room. Not that he gets much peace and quiet, as his phone rings on a semi-regular basis. When it does, it splinters the air like the shattering of glass – an aural act of violence.
As King, Tajah explains the different sort of calls he receives – ranging from invitations to speaking engagements, to calls of a malevolent nature from the public. He also knows J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI has been tapping his phone, taping his conversations and equating the fight for civil rights with communist leanings.
Tajah covers a lot of ground in King’s life, as well as the history of the Civil Rights movement. As King ‘reminisces’, he also delivers renditions of two of his most famous speeches – ‘I Have A Dream’ and ‘I Have Been To The Mountaintop’. However, when the play shifts from the ‘exposition’, the focus moves from King the ‘public figure’ to King the ‘man’ who is susceptible to being tired, stressed and worried.
Even though Malcom X is gone at this point, his philosophy of “By any means necessary” is gaining traction in the African-American community, with the Stokely Carmichael’s Black Panther movement taking up the mantle of more aggressive action. This being the case, King thinks his preference for non-violent resistance is increasingly out of favour with the times…
Unlike other plays that deal with the last days of the protagonist, King here has no awareness that these are his last moments. With the press also increasingly critical of the violence that’s crept into recent marches, there’s still much for King to do to redress this.
Dream Of A King is very much a labour of love for Tajah and gives 100% in terms of energy, inflection and attention to detail. His sister Paulette Tajah – who also sings in the show – introduces each half with a live rendition of a gospel song.