Woke

Apphia Campbell and Meredith Yarbrough

Play the Spotlight Theatre

Gilded Balloon Teviot

From 04 August 2017 to 28 August 2017

Rating: *****

Review by Keith Mckenna

Apphia Campbell and Meredith Yarbrough’s inspiring play Woke dramatises the political development of two women.

One is Assata Shakur, the former member of the Black Panthers who in 1977 was falsely convicted of a murder she did not commit. The other is Ambrosia a young black woman who in 2014 arrives at college in St Louis just as the protests are growing in the nearby town of Ferguson over the killing by police of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

Apphia Campbell gives a strong clear and riveting performance as all the characters in the play, morphing easily between the more austere almost weary Assata and the younger often light-hearted Ambrosia.

She also has a fantastic singing voice that slips into the narrative extracts from blues, soul and civil rights songs.

When Ambrosia is dropped off at college, she waves her dad goodbye with the words, “I don’t have to do nothing but eat, drink, sing, stay black and die.”

That is all she expects to do and when other students talk politics and a teacher refers to Assata Shakur she shows little interest. However she is persuaded to see firsthand a protest in Ferguson.

There she encounters the local corrupt police practice of raising money by the racist application of fines. She is given a series of on the spot ticket fines amounting to hundreds of dollars. Later she is astonished to find the Ferguson court system simply adds on more fines.

The sequence reflects something a US government report in 2015 exposed as a form of racist abuse with for instance 95% of Ferguson citations for walking on the road being given to the 67% of the population who are black. (And if you are black, try and prove you weren’t walking in the road when a policeman says you were.)

This is a fast, exciting and engaging play that ended with most of the audience standing and applauding.

Apphia explains that the term “Woke” is now being used by “millennials meaning a person who is politically aware and actively participating in making change”.

In a speech close to its conclusion, Assata says, “black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions. Shaped by our oppression.”

The play Woke shows something of the way that can happen.