Shuck ‘n’ Jive

Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong & Simone Ibbett-Brown
Soho Theatre
Soho Theatre (upstairs)

Olivia Onyehara as Simone and Tanisha Spring as Cassi Credit: Helen Maybanks
Olivia Onyehara as Simone and Tanisha Spring as Cassi Credit: Helen Maybanks
Olivia Onyehara as Simone and Tanisha Spring as Cassi Credit: Helen Maybanks

As I left the Soho Theatre at the end of the performance of Shuck ‘n’ Jive, I heard one audience member irritably say that she had found the show very confusing.

Yet one of the actors had summed up what we were seeing with the suggestion that it was “just a series of anecdotes about race.”

It could very well be characterised as a light sketch compilation, meant to amuse. Certainly many of those sitting on the front rows laughed a good deal, but further back many of the faces looked puzzled.

The sketches were good-natured enough and fast, so if one didn’t grab you, then you were on to the next one before you could ponder why not.

They reminded me of theatre course improvisations that were supposed to be versions of warm-up exercises: fun to do, but not necessarily fun to watch for very long.

But they did keep coming in Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong and Simone Ibbett-Brown’s Shuck 'n' Jive. Water pistols were fired into the audience to illustrate micro-aggressions, a spoof television gameshow had actors running several times across the width of the performance space and both did minstrel dances.

The two black characters, Cassi and Simone, are fed up with the limited opportunities for ethnic minorities in the theatre industry and their personal experience of casual racism. They decide to write a play, to let us know the horror of it all.

That had me racing enthusiastically to the theatre. Never mind all the requests from Extinction Rebellion to do some final preparation for the October Rebellion. This was a show I had to see.

The London Stage does not look like the people of London and access to work at every level in the theatre still lacks diversity. If you don’t believe this, check the Action for Change Project.

I wanted to like Shuck ‘n’ Jive. I talked to audience members afterwards, hoping there was something I missed. I rushed off an e-mail asking to see a text I could scour for a good bit. None of that worked. I was left irritated and disappointed.

The show has problems of construction and politics. I suspect the woman I quoted earlier felt confused because the show lacks any sense of development. It doesn’t really have a story, a narrative, a rhythm. It feels flat.

And though its subject of racism is important, its targets don’t really hit the mark. Take the way they illustrate the narrow stereotyped roles for minorities. They have Cassi and Simone separately go for an audition and each in turn find themselves in white gloves, having to do a minstrel performance.

That can’t be the reality, no matter how bad we think the industry is. Yet as a metaphor, or satire, it seems to crudely trivialise the issue.

The actors Tanisha Spring as Cassi and Olivia Onyehara as Simone are clearly confident and able performers, but if the writers want to build an audience and make a difference in the way we see the world, then they need a better show than this.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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