Chichester Festival Theatre – until 23 October 2021
Chichester Festival Theatre’s premiere of Andrea Levy’s moving saga, The Long Song, doesn’t hit a wrong note both as a telling reminder of this country’s involvement in the slave trade and timely contribution to Black History Month. On opening night it received a well-deserved ovation and critical acclaim, a beautifully told story that was both harrowing yet unexpectedly uplifting. ‘
Protesters around the country can topple statues and demand retribution for a particularly dark period in our history, but it is Levy’s powerful last book that brings home the reality of the era.
The Long Song is set in the 1800s when England ruled Jamaica and enslaved its people to work on the sugar plantations. Suhayla El-Bushra’s faithful adaptation opens with a young book publisher probing the memories of an old woman who may hold the key to his mysterious past.
As a framework for the story, it works well although the full circumstances as to how young Thomas Kinsman meets the feisty and opportunist Miss July are a trifle implausible. Suffice to say that, with the help of sustenance, the game old girl begins to reluctantly open up about a past she’d rather forget.
Born in the fields, and a product of rape, young July’s tale is as much to do with a tumultuous time in history as it is about her life. July is groomed and raised by ex-pat Caroline Mortimer (Olivia Poulet) who is gifted the five-year-old in pretty much the same way one admires, and receives, a puppy.
Charlotte Gwinner’s imaginative staging and Frankie Bradshaw’s simple set design delivers a moving drama with little more than a few chairs, table and a sample sugar crop but it will shock modern sensibilities with its language and dialogue…