This gorgeously thoughtful piece uses music to explore themes of inequality, prejudice, passion and artistry to great effect.
The rise of audio dramas throughout lockdown over the last year has brought to life some truly extraordinary stories – including this one written by Amanda Wilkin that celebrates music and passion but also highlighting the theme of inequality that still exists today for black people.
Separated by 100 years, the story brings to life that of composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor in 1898 ahead of the first performance of Ballad in A minor and understandably nervous and Song who is a student at music college and feeling nervous about what she is composing. Set in different eras they talk about their lives and frustrations at attitudes towards them and on occasion their work.
The two different time settings could have come across as quite jarring, but thanks to the use of music (beautifully performed by Deschanel Gordon on piano, Fra Rustumji on violin and Zara Hudson-Kozdoj on cello) composed by Cassie Kinoshi, the audience feels as though they are time-hopping with ease and style.
This in turn is helped by the elegant and coherent script by Wilkin that captures the similarities between Song and Samuel perfectly. It is really highlighted when both at different points proclaim that people make “assumptions about you before you even open your mouth” – this sense of frustration and passion about wanting to be heard is something that shines through consistently throughout.
While it is two different eras, it is made clear that there are still striking resemblances in terms of attitude. For example, when Samuel is looking through the newspapers looking for negative comments – that is what he focuses on, while Song gets negative feedback from her teacher about how Black students tend to focus on identity in their compositions. In both instances they are made to feel unwelcome and don’t feel as though they belong.
But the whole drama feels like a celebration of music and the way it can transport you into a different world – you get a real sense of both characters and their devotion to their work. However, of course it is highlighted that the inequality of pay is another serious problem raised – particularly when Song explains about how the composer that she has come to admire deeply Taylor passed away penniless – despite his success, he never received royalties for his work.
While there are strong emotions that shine through, Rachael Nanyonjo’s direction ensures the whole story comes across as calm and the arguments raised are reasonable in tone. This is enhanced further by the richness and depth that both Obioma Ugoala as Samuel and Shiloh Coke as Song give their character. Coke gives Song strong ambition and determination not to be treated as badly as Taylor was – she is more than aware things have to start changing now. It is a powerful performance.
Recognition is a powerful and fascinating audio drama that I can really see working well as a two hander on stage – definite potential to be explored further and adapted into a live show.
By Emma Clarendon
Recognition is available to listen to via the 45North website here.