Review: Salt – Northern Stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Thursday August 10 2017

Four Stars

At the start of Salt, Selina Thompson, the writer and performer, tells us about the year she spent at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, mostly listening to “white, men talking about their pain.” It is one of the lighter moments in the powerful, 70-minute monologue, eliciting a rush of relieved laughter from the (largely white) audience, but it is important because it forms part of the litany of incidents, serious and trivial, that led this young black woman from Birmingham to embark on the amazing journey she describes.

Last year, infuriated by the legacy of the slave trade and feeling embattled by her own experience of racism, both casual and overt, in Britain, Thompson boarded a cargo ship in Belgium, bound for Ghana. It was the first gruelling leg in a voyage undertaken by the performer, tracing the transatlantic slave triangle. She moved on to the West Indies and from there to North America.

SALT Publicity Image
Photo Credit: The Other Richard
info@theotherrichard.com

Pic: Richard Davenport

The experiences Thompson describes, poetically and with disarming self-possession, are often unbearable. The racist “master” of the cargo ship confiscated the footage her filmmaker companion shot of their journey. At Elmina Castle in Ghana, for centuries one of the key trading posts in West Africa, Thompson was offered souvenirs and DVDs by tour guides and soon after began experiencing an oppressive, almost overwhelming sense of grief.

Selina Thompson salt Production-1-0054 credit Richard Davenport

Pic: Richard Davenport

What elevates her account of these events is the way Thompson leavens her unapologetically serious approach to her subject (which includes several effectively uncomfortable scenes) with moments of playfulness or lyricism. The sequence in which Thompson methodically smashes up a huge shard of Atlantic rock salt creates a wonderfully cathartic central image.

 

The simple beauty of the staging and atmospheric lighting by Cassie Mitchell complements the elegant understatement of Thompson’s performance. It is a discomfiting piece, though utterly refreshing in its mix of honesty and dignity.

 

Box office: 0131 560 1581, to August 26

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