Review: Woke – Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 16 2017

Three Stars

Apphia Campbell, the US-born singer and actor, who is now based in Edinburgh, has spent the past four years performing and touring her acclaimed one-woman show, Black is the Color of My Voice, based on the life of the singer and civil rights activist, Nina Simone.

 

A contemporary of Simone’s, Assata Shakur, the prominent Black Liberation Army member, is the subject of Campbell’s latest work. Like the singer-songwriter, Shakur was drawn to revolutionary politics having grown impatient with the non-violent approach advocated by Martin Luther King. A key quote from her 1987 autobiography, describing her political awakening, might just as easily have been lifted from one of Simone’s songs: “I didn’t know what a fool they had made of me until I grew old and started to read real history.”

Shakur’s biography forms a key element of Campbell’s show, which darts between the Black Power movement of the Sixties and Seventies and the present day. The contemporary strand follows a student singer, Ambrosia, who comes to embrace the Black Lives Matter campaign when she witnesses the fallout from the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

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Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

By comparing these women’s experience of endemic racism, and their gradual journeys towards direct action that results in both of them being criminalised (Shakur has sought asylum in Cuba since 1979, having fled a life sentence for murder), Campbell shows how little has changed in the decades separating the pair. While angry and at times despairing, Woke also sounds an optimistic note at the end when Ambrosia picks up the torch of political protest that was lit by Shakur and others from her generation.

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Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The production benefits from Caitlyn Skinner’s clean, clear direction, and while it could afford to be more in-depth, particularly during the historical sections, the piece contains some rousing moments, not least when Campbell applies her considerable vocal talents to the songs that punctuate the action.

 

Box office: 0131 622 6552, to August 28

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