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Credit: Total Insight
Credit: Total Insight

Olaudah Equiano, The Enslaved African, Hen and Chickens Theatre – Review

Pros: Fantastic acting shone out in this hard-hitting piece on slavery.
Cons: The set and props were too sparse, and the story stilted.

Pros: Fantastic acting shone out in this hard-hitting piece on slavery. Cons: The set and props were too sparse, and the story stilted. Ah the World Cup. One of my favourite 4-yearly sports events. I remember in 1998 when, at the age of 12, I decided to memorise the weights and heights of every member of the Nigerian squad. Little did I know that, 14 years later, I’d still have that incredible sense of excitement. And that I’d still be single. Dragging myself away from Gary Lineker and his semi-intelligible chums was admittedly a wrench, but I was intrigued…

Summary

Rating

Good

An interesting and informative but all-together too short and incomplete production.

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Ah the World Cup. One of my favourite 4-yearly sports events. I remember in 1998 when, at the age of 12, I decided to memorise the weights and heights of every member of the Nigerian squad. Little did I know that, 14 years later, I’d still have that incredible sense of excitement. And that I’d still be single.

Dragging myself away from Gary Lineker and his semi-intelligible chums was admittedly a wrench, but I was intrigued by what Olaudah Equiano, The Enslaved African would entail (other than enslaved Africans, of course). And with the world now focused on Brazil and its rich melting pot of cultures, it’s important to understand how a lot of this multiculturalism came about. Yes, I realise, it’s a tenuous link – World Cup and slavery are about as synonymous as Joe Hart and a packet of Doritos. Unless of course you’re Qatar.

The play involves three characters: a boy (the title character), his sister and a slave trader who captures them. It takes us through the events of their capture up to the point where they’re on the boat to, presumably, the plantation. It’s a harrowing story with various unsettling incidents along the way.

The set itself was completely bare. There were a handful of props, but some were missing, meaning the actors had to mime parts of the action. I wasn’t entirely sure whether this worked. I know audience imagination is important in low budget plays, but I felt there should have been some consistency. I also felt this sparseness contributed to a visual flatness – more props and more complex lighting and style would have given it a touch of class rather than leaving it feeling incomplete. Moreover, it was such a short play (just a little over 30 minutes) that I never got the opportunity to fully invest.

What the sparseness did do was allow the actors to shine. All three had good presence and truly embodied the pain and suffering of their characters. However, I felt the emotional moments came too fleetingly and too sporadically for me to engage with them fully. If there had been more of a build up, more signposting, more of a sense of dread, there could have been even more power in those moments.

I can say that Olaudah Equiano worked for what it was, succeeding to be appropriately shocking and hard-hitting in accordance with its subject matter. Above all, I just longed to see it as a more fully developed production, with more real props and characters rather than imagined ones. I was glad I saw it – I certainly found it touching and informative – but in terms of entertainment, the World Cup definitely wins, hands down.

Author: Adam Tulloch
Director: Adam Tulloch
Producer: Total Insight
Showing: This production was a one-night-only event.

About Jack Wake-Walker

Jack Wake-Walker
Gameshow Developer. Jack works in TV and has devised shows such as Ice Dreams, the frozen alternative to Great British Bake Off, and Tankenstein, a destructive quiz show involving a tank. Neither has yet been commissioned. He was an extra in the Bond film, Skyfall, and played a zombie in Derren Brown: Apocalypse. Neither was as fun as they sound. To counteract his low-brow career, Jack makes pretentious documentaries and video art pieces in his spare time. He enjoys theatre, in particular the weird kind, and is pleased to be part of a predominantly musical-hating blog.