Pros: Strictly Arts Theatre’s creative genius translates a heavy topic into a captivating performance.
Cons: …not in this one.
Police in the United States kill unarmed black people nearly twice per week. In 2015, only 13 of the 104 cases reported resulted in officers being charged with a crime and only 5 of them ended with a conviction – all below 5 years.
Taking from these stifling figures, powerhouse Strictly Arts Theatre explores the unspoken link between mental health and systemic racism with a breath-taking ensemble work that is visually captivating and simultaneously emotional. The gripping ordeal of some of these victims is re-enacted on stage by the six-strong cast, using a flawless combination of spoken word, movement, music, projections and shadow puppetry. The stories intertwine, and in doing so lay bare the recurring wrongs of the justice system, which appears unchanged, despite the ongoing passing of time.
The first case to be examined is that of William Freeman, son of an emancipated slave, who was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit and, a few years later, trialled again for murder. For the first time in the United States, mental illness was called on as a mitigating circumstance, as Freeman’s insanity had been induced by the abuse received during his first time in jail. Nonetheless, Freeman was found guilty and received a death penalty in 1846. It’s striking to think that just three years earlier, in England, Scotsman Daniel M’naghten had been acquitted for murder on the grounds of insanity.
The first successful prosecution of British police officers for the death of a black person happened in 1969, following the drowning of David Oluwale, a Nigerian-born man whose mental health had been affected by a false conviction. More recently, Michael Bailey from Birmingham was found hanged in his cell in 2005, after his mother’s concerns for the boy’s quickly deteriorating mental health had been ignored by the prison authorities.
Ten years later, Sandra Bland was found hanged in her cell, following severe abuse. She’d been arrested in Texas three days earlier for an argument with a police officer, after she’d failed to signal a lane change. Whereas, Sarah Reed was found dead in her cell at HMP Holloway, in early 2017. Her experience of mental illness had started after the sudden death of her baby daughter, over a decade earlier.
Witnessing these true stories unfold before their eyes, the room reacts to the curtain call with a standing ovation, which feels more like a tribute to the victims than a mere sign of appreciation for the undisputed talent of this young and mighty ensemble.
Director: Danièle Sanderson
Producer: Strictly Arts Theatre and The Pleasance
Box Office: 0131 556 6550
Booking Link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/freeman
Booking Until: 27 August 2018