Watched Steve McQueen’s Small Axe on iPlayer? Well Estate Endz got there first. The Dream, written and directed by Nnenna Samson Abosi, was first performed back in October 2020, and it’s a totally engaging, enlightened piece of work. It focuses on the stories of black activists the Mangrove 9 and the Black Power Movement, but carefully weaves it into a wider conversation about community, the history of race relations in British and global racism.
From the start we’re made welcome, literally invited in to experience the delights of Caribbean culture. You can almost feel the sunshine and warmth as the music plays and the scene is set. We are embraced by the likeable and friendly Aunty Lou (Connie Bell) introducing the project, before meeting the family. From here we go forward together, through an array of events that document social history and significant milestones in black history; experiencing and understanding them together. This is my kind of activism!
We follow the story of the Trinidadian Johnson family, who moved to Britain at the time of Windrush. A hardworking, respectable household, their life in London brings disappointment, police brutality, ignorance and discrimination. But there is also great positivity, as they unite with their community to confront these issues, and their tale celebrates endeavour, dignity and respect.
The narrative flows beautifully across a smoothly edited sequence of scenarios over many years, making great use of Caribbean music and incidental sound to give atmosphere. Dipping in and out of fact and fiction, the talented, multi-rolling cast demonstrate how the black community has battled adversity and harassment to change the world, leading to the Race Relations Acts in the UK. Patrick Abbot’s delivery of the evil, divisive words of Enoch Powell, spoken verbatim, is truly chilling. To add a global perspective we hear the voices of figures like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Einstein, still so very relevant today.
Despite covering such important and emotive subjects the play is never patronising, or aggressively provocative, and so succeeds in being the best kind of political; educating by making you care about the characters and wanting the best for them. Equally, it makes it very clear this is not just black history – it’s also white history, and that needs to be owned. The scene where we learn about Leonard’s (Adil Hassan) experiences as a bus conductor are so very moving, I was ashamed it could have happened.
We have come such a long way in race relations, but there is still more to do. As the show draws to a close we suddenly loop back to the beginning, reminded that the Windrush scandal is still happening, and warned that racism is a global pandemic still to be combatted. The show challenges us to question, do we really want our present to be the same as that past? By inviting us into this dialogue Estate Endz offer us a chance to to rethink and make change together.
This ambitious project is backed up with a highly informative webpage explaining the creative process and the background historical research that has gone into it, and I highly recommend checking it out. And all this is done by a youth group of under 25s. Great stuff guys! I am really looking forward to whatever you do next!
Written and directed by: Nnenna Samson Abosi
Co-directed by: Andrew McPherson and Connie Bell
Produced by: SPID Theatre
The Dream radio play is available online at Decolonising the Archive‘s (DTA) website until 17 February 2021 as part of the residency partnership between SPID theatre and DTA.