Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
Even though theatres are once again open, there is always going to be something comforting about an audio play that you can listen to from home. I’ve listened to a few plays presented by the Pitlochry Festival Theatre and The Lyceum’s audio-digital online venture Sound Stage, so was looking forward to finishing work and curling up on the sofa, headphones on, ready to be transported to another place.
Roy Williams’ audio play History boldly reflects on 40 years of British history through the eyes of an extended Black British family in London. It weaves in current events to set the scene and spark debate between its characters. We hear audio from news reels covering events such as the 1981 Brixton Riots, 9/11, Brexit and the murder of George Floyd, which flows into music of the time and in turn merges into each section of the play. It’s a clever method that means the political backdrop of the period is always clear.
The play is a series of monologues and duologues where we hear from different members of this extended family. I must admit to a little confusion at times keeping up with how characters were related. And while the way time moved is effective, it can be hard to keep up with who is who. This is something that can be a challenge in any audio play, you do really need to focus fully to make sure you don’t get lost.
As I’ve come to expect from a Sound Stage production, the cast are all brilliant. In particular Oliver Alvin-Wilson as Jordan, who portrays such intense emotions on finding out that his father is not who he thinks, it makes it emotionally hard to listen to. Equally, Cyril Nri is fantastic as Neil, again the emotions are so raw and real that you can’t help but be gripped.
Covering 40 years of history in under 90 minutes is quite a feat, but through the eyes of the experiences of this family, the play succeeds. Williams cleverly pinpoints exact moments in both public and personal history as a way of highlighting the racism experienced and the struggles of a Black British family in London over the time period. The play’s final duologue sees one of the characters who is arrested and attacked by police in the 1980s, speaking to his daughter who is fervently trying to get him to join her at the Black Lives Matter protests during the pandemic. There are many striking and upsetting moments in this play, but the end is particularly harrowing. Especially when you question what, in 40 years, has really changed?
Written by: Roy Williams
Directed by: Ben Occhipinti
Produced by: Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh in collaboration with Naked Productions
HIstory is available online between 24 to 26 September, performances at 7pm (24 and 25) and 4pm (26). Further information and booking via the below link.