Battersea Arts Centre, London – until 22 June 2019
Woke is an appropriate title for Apphia Campbell’s play about what makes an activist and the battle for civil rights. She weaves together two stories, set in different time periods, contrasting the Black Panthers with Black Lives Matter to ask how far things have progressed.
First, we meet the naive – ’unwoke’ – university fresher Ambrosia whose first semester coincides with the murder of Michael Brown by a white police officer which sparks social unrest near her college campus.
She’s been brought up to believe that the law is just and justice will prevail until she meets Trey, the law student who challenges her views and inadvertently introduces her to the realities of the legal system for African Americans. Then we meet Assata Shakur who, while a member of the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s, was jailed for shooting a police officer despite the prosecution case not having to prove that she actually fired the fatal shots.
Campbell deftly switches between the two women’s narratives and supporting characters sometimes with such speed it takes a moment to catch up. Her writing is vivid and alive, transporting you into key moments.
The stage is sparse apart from a box, a tall stool and small low table which feel a little superfluous as Campbell fills the space with her performance, occasional song and dancing.
She starts with a beautiful rendition of ‘St Louis Blues’ which Ambrosia thinks is actually about adventure and then snippets of other atmospheric folk songs. Later she adds volume, tension and poignancy with protest songs and rally chants.
Campbell gives a powerful and engaging performance and the play’s message about how much hasn’t changed is firmly nailed to the mast.
Woke is at Battersea Arts Centre until June 22 and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. It’s 60 minutes without an interval.
You can see the trailer here.
You might also like to read:
West End review: Education, Education, Education, Trafalgar Studious – riotous, funny and occasionally chaotic but more than 90s nostalgia.
BalletBoyz, Them/Us – or being moved to tears by a piece of contemporary dance.
From the archives – Dr Faustus Q&A with Kit Harington and Jamie Lloyd
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