New Slang Productions
Tristan Bates Theatre
As the audience sat in complete darkness gripped by the cries of a panicked young man, it seemed like we were embarking on an emotional roller coaster. Unfortunately this was the most my heartstrings were pulled throughout, despite valiant performances from all four actors.
Tian Glasgow (director/producer/writer) is better known for his forays into television, but having recently finished the Royal Court Critical Mass writer's course he has assembled the team at New Slang Productions for their first theatre project. Glasgow introduces a range of challenging ideas, from the horror of slave travel to the mess made by missionaries delivering the word of God. Unfortunately he doesn't actually wade into the vast depths of these subjects, instead dipping his toes into the murky water before quickly pulling back and moving to a different pond.
Below deck, three recently captured and boxed up slaves have been placed together with Kayode Joseph, an anthropologist studying their behaviour. Kayode (Tyson Oba) originates from Africa but was taken as a small child and raised in England as a pastor's son. He starts the study unaware of the true horror of their travel conditions, and acknowledges their pitiful state. Whilst conversing with the slaves, he unexpectedly comes to realise his lack of belonging either to the world he has been brought up in or his original homeland.
None of the slaves reaches their intended destination: shot, committing suicide or escaping. Edd Muruako plays a desperate villager, converted to Christianity. Muruako brings to life this embittered, desperate believer, and his manic laughter is haunting even once the play is ended. Despite his impassioned performance, Glasgow's writing never really helps us connect with the character, and as a result his leap overboard is less disturbing than it should be. This is true of Glasgow's creation of all the characters, and when we finally see hidden depths of understanding from the young man (Emmanuel Akintunde) the plot is suddenly raced through as if in a desperate attempt to get to the end after the tedium endured before. Akintunde's performance is also notable—his desperate innocence is touching, and you really buy into his confusion at his captors’ strange methods and devices.
Glasgow's direction for this intimate piece is more inspired than the writing. The physicality of the cramped actors is painful to watch; you can't help but wince at their shackled hands. This teamed with designer Rhiannon Clarke's simple set in the small black box of Tristan Bates theatre helps recreate the feeling of claustrophobia endured. The slaves’ enclosures are chalk drawn boxes, by which one scratches out a tally of the days. The true gems in this piece are the built-up soundscapes of African drumming, heavy breathing and dragged feet exercising in shackles led by music director Hani Abbasi.
Silver Shores is a tragic play—we know the inevitable end for the slaves on the ship—yet Glasgow never quite manages to quite capture the level of suspense required in such a static piece. This is a real shame as at times his writing is beautifully poetic, and as all three characters describe their homeland with very different voices you start to build an interesting picture of their lives before their capture.
This is a play that attempts to explore the complexities associated with the slave trade. Kayode observing his own kind yet having never lived among them is an intriguing angle as Glasgow starts to engage in ideas of being an outsider. Unfortunately he could have gone further to develop our understanding of how it feels to be removed from your race, and presented with your once-brothers in the worst conditions possible. As it is, he merely flags up this idea towards the end of the show.
Silver Shores is based on surprisingly under-explored subject matter in the mainstream theatre world, and throws up plenty of ideas to chew over once leaving the theatre. Unfortunately the audience was never really gripped, and Glasgow largely managed to recreate the tedium the slaves must have felt for weeks on end.
Reviewer: Louise Lewis