Sometimes, in theatre, there’s the show, and then there’s the wider meaning of the show. Eclipse Theatre’s Black Men Walking – written by the rapper Testament and now on a UK tour – is flawed in a dozen ways and often seems ill-at-ease with theatre as a medium.
Black Men Walking, Tron, Glasgow ***
The unease is present from the opening moments – when a historical spirit of black women in Britain is seen scattering seeds on a moorland hillside – through large tracts of the dialogue, in which Ben Onwukwe as ageing black Yorkshireman Thomas, walking the moors with his two younger companions, seems doomed to repeat himself endlessly, raging about ancestors no one else can see.
Rarely can a play have contained so much awkward onstage walking-without-moving; and although the dialogue becomes livelier and more focused after the men encounter Ayeesha, a young female Yorkshire rapper who roundly rejects Tom’s mysticism, her arrival comes too late to give the 80-minute play a more coherent shape.
Yet for all these problems there’s something so profoundly significant about this play’s effort to reclaim the landscape of Britain for all the black people who have ever walked here, since Roman times and beyond, that the idea of it – and the poetry it achieves in its finest moments – carries far more meaning than the action itself. And when the four actors gather for their final spoken chorus of “We walk”, it has a spine-shivering power; a power that everyone who cares about the past and future of this island should experience and reflect upon, long after the play is gone. Joyce McMillan
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 18-21 September; Perth Theatre 25-28 September; and the Beacon, Greenock, 13 November.