Theatre review: Woke

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Given this week’s events in the US, it’s perhaps not surprising that this year’s Fringe features more young black voices than ever before, looking forward in anger, and back to the civil rights and black power struggles of the 1960s and 70s with a mixture of admiration and despair.

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14)

****

Apphia Campbell’s is perhaps the most powerful of all these voices, making itself heard, in this new solo show, through the stories of two very different women – the 1970s black power activist Assata Shakur, still living in exile in Cuba, and, in the present day, a young, naive black student called Candice, who arrives to study music in St Louis in the autumn of 2014, just as the riots following the murder of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson are reaching their peak.

The story of Shakur’s arrest and imprisonment 40 years ago provides a powerful historical backdrop to the 21st century story of a young middle-class back girl who believes in America and its values, but is forced on to a sharp learning-curve by the systematic police and judicial abuse of black people she witnesses and experiences in Ferguson. By the end of the show, her anger is palpable, her grief at America’s failure to deliver on the promise of the Sixties deepening into a furious political resolve. And in Caitlin Skinner’s simple but perfectly-balanced production, all this is delivered not only through Campbell’s text, but through a musical score that grows ever richer and more serious.

Candice is a student of voice; and as her repertoire gradually shifts from light-hearted love songs to great anthems of protest and sorrow, it’s as if her voice is at last becoming one with those of the people who marched in the 1960s, and those who still protest today, in a song that will not end until black people all over the world can say “free at last”, and mean it.

Until 28 August. 20 August, 2pm.