This was at three-part evening: first drumming in the bar by Natty Mark-Samuels and Francis Boua, then the performance (which the drummers also accompanied), and afterwards a DJ set.

The central event was Unlock the Chains Collective’s performance of #Ending the Silence, Euton Daley’s blistering commentary on the aftermath of empire and colonialism. Part One (entitled #Black Lives Matter) opens to the sound of emergency vehicles, and we see the performers dressed in black and white on a set with two soapbox stands and a pair of large grid frames, one placed on the floor the other leaning against the back wall. Overhead, a screen displays Derek James’ filmscape of words, names and images.

#Ending the Silence is a brutally frank account of what it means to be black in our society, and I am acutely conscious that I am writing about it from the perspective of a white woman. A demanding theatrical work (for both cast and audience), it continually confronts us with our assumptions and prejudices, through words, rhythm, song, dance, movement and visual imagery. The sheer pace and commitment with which the performers sought to give a voice to those who have no voice was sometimes almost over-whelming.

As the frames that formed part of the set were moved around to represent fences, cages, gallows, and even a hashtag, singers Amantha Edmead and Ehi Obhiozele gave new and ironic meaning to familiar songs, such as Brown Girl in the Ring and Jerusalem, and actor Stephen Macaulay addressed us passionately from a soapbox. The performers sometimes struggled to contain and channel the raw passion and deep sense of injury that lies behind this work. Daley, however, used quiet and stillness with exceptional authority as he recited (almost chanted) his own poetry.

After Part Two, #Walking on Eggshells, which concludes with the names of some of those that have died in police custody scrolling down the screen, the work becomes forward looking. In #Hope (part three), storyteller Griot Chinyere built her connection with the audience so skilfully that when she wanted it, she quickly had us answering her back. #Hope suggests that despite the insidious ways in which society categorises, stereotypes and dismisses people because they are black, and notwithstanding the brutality and injustice that exists today, there will be change.

#Ending the Silence is dance theatre, but not primarily a dance work, and although movement is integral to conveying its meaning, choreographer Bawren Tavaziva’s dances tend to support or illustrate the action rather than advancing it. For example, in Part One there is a brief but moving duet by Luke Crook and Nicola Moses, which ends with him cradling her lifeless body in his arms; it re-enacts in a different medium an event (her death) that has already taken place on stage. If Daley can find a way to integrate the dances into his work as well as he does the dancers, it will further increase its power.

Maggie Watson

26 February 2018