I Will Speak for Myself

Valerie M Joyce

Kimberly S Fairbanks

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

From 22 August 2016 to 27 August 2016

Rating: ****

Review by Keith Mckenna

Occasionally, when there is a protest against the police shooting of an unarmed black man, there is a response to the black lives matter argument that says surely all lives matter, and of course they do, but it misses the point of the argument. If all lives matter, how come police kill so many unarmed black men and if all lives really matter how come we can scour the history books and find so few voices of black people?

Valerie M Joyce’s powerful set of monologues imagines key moments in the lives of real African American women who lived between 1649 and 1865. It is a fascinating insight into the various, sometimes shocking experience of injustice.

Valerie has constructed these voices from the fragmentary record of these women, often from the documents of other people. The show is framed by the character of old Elizabeth who lived to over a hundred years and introduces each woman as if to a political or religious meeting.

The actor Kimberly S Fairbanks performs all the characters, switching confidently and easily from one to another showing a remarkable ability to articulate different accents.

Each story focuses on a moment of decision and action. For Abigail, a free woman in Philadelphia, that is the decision to remain to nurse white people when the town is hit by yellow fever.

Lucinda, who was freed by her master, courageously remains in Virginia for over a year to be near her husband though the Virginian law insists that beyond a year a free black person returns to slavery. Her solution is to request from hiding that she be made a slave alongside her husband.

Although most of the stories are disturbing, there are moments of humour. This is certainly the case in the account of the slave Ellen Craft’s four day journey to a free state disguised as a white man with a slave servant in tow, the slave being secretly her husband. At one point, she sits in a carriage with an hilariously prejudiced woman from Richmond who subjects her to barmy reflections on black people.

The most shocking image in the play is that of the indentured servant Mary who, after being raped by a white man, is convicted of fornication and forced to stand in a white sheet holding a white rod and speaking the Penitential Psalm before the Elizabeth River parish congregation.

If you missed this fine, informative and entertaining show, why not pop down to your local school and, after asking them about the number of black women the children are introduced to, remind them that all lives really do matter and get them to book this show.