EIF theatre review: Lament for Sheku Bayoh

The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Hannah Lavery’s Lament For Sheku Bayoh (****) was planned long before the killing of George Floyd, in Minneapolis in May 2020; yet there is a powerful synchronicity in its appearance on the Scottish theatre scene over the last year.
Lament for Sheku BayohLament for Sheku Bayoh
Lament for Sheku Bayoh

Sheku Bayoh was a 31-year-old man of Sierra Leonean family who was living in Kirkcaldy with his partner and two small children when he died there, at the hands of a group of police officers, in May 2015. Despite relentless campaigning by his family, and the eventual setting up of full public inquiry, none of the officers has been prosecuted; and Lavery’s one-hour play - first seen in a film version last November, and written and performed entirely by a company of black Scottish women - represents a brief, austere and yet overwhelmingly powerful choral response to these events.

In a painful and beautiful melding of irony and hope, Beldina Odenyo’s superb vocal score for the production takes its inspiration from three songs by Robert Burns - A Man’s A Man, Ae Fond Kiss, and Auld Lang Syne - that have become bywords across the globe for Scottish egalitarianism and generosity of spirit. And given inspired and passionate performances from Saskia Ashdown, Patricia Panther, and Courtney Stoddart, Lament For Sheku Bayoh sets down a vital marker in the story of Scottish theatre, challenging the nation to seek justice for Sheku Bayoh as one of our own, or to abandon the myth of Scotland as a land of equality and humanity, once and for all.

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Lament for Sheku Bayoh is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre until 28 August and is also available online until 31 August.

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