Touring – reviewed at the Vault Festival, London
In 1831, Mary Prince’s autobiography was the first book published in the UK about a Black woman. Her straightforward, emotive prose shares her lived experience of being an enslaved woman in the West Indies and England in great detail, including numerous accounts of abuse. This two-woman show embraces it all, packing this story of family separation, numerous masters, and a quest for freedom into an hour. Dance, music and ritual are embedded into the dramaturgy, too – this is a dense show, but one telling an important story that’s exquisitely performed.
Amantha Edmead plays Mary from the age of four through to history losing track of her in her fifties. She also sporadically embodies other people she meets – various masters and mistresses, other enslaved people, her book transcriber, and others – through total vocal and physical transformation. It’s a marvel to watch, and if this were a radio play, it would be impossible to tell Edmead’s different voices are from the same person. She needs to grace all of our stages, forthwith.
The script is mostly in monologue form, though some scenes with multiple characters are made clear by Edmead switching back and forth between them. Though a simple device, Edmead makes it work. Transitions of movement, dance and drumming to show time passing are generally effective, though some of them are clumsily executed and disrupt the narrative flow.
Angie Amra Anderson energetically accompanies with drumming and song; together the performers fill the space with their commitment to telling Mary’s story. Though this could easily be expanded to a longer show with more performers, it doesn’t feel skeletal in this form. Quite the opposite – though it shows Mary’s journey, perhaps there is too much information here in the limited running time. More detail within a smaller period of Mary’s life could generate more impact.
Serpentine ropes cover parts of the stage, but instead of ending in heads, two nooses hang above the performers. Though the story ultimately is one of hope for and celebration of freedom, this simple design element is a powerful reminder of the violence and death that black people suffered in the past and continue to endure today.