Well, there were three of us in the audience in the end and that’s a shame because this performance deserves much more visibility. Blud, written by and starring Yan Toby-Amisi, is a moving, forceful and driven account of the racism affecting every black person in London. Standing alone on the stage, Toby-Amisi narrates the account of Daniel, a young black man born and raised in the hood, and his attempts to get out. Starting with the innocent happiness of his school years, when friendships were created out of a mutual love of music, chicken shops and insults, he seamlessly bounces between prose and rap, adopting a multitude of accents along the way. The rhythm created is inspired, the beat facilitating an empathy with the audience.
There is humour as the relationship with his best friend is birthed, which turns to sorrow as the lives of these two young boys take different paths. Determined to better himself, Daniel reaches the giddy heights of university – “Russell Group no less” – only to find the incessant and insidious racism overwhelming and alienating. Desperate to be back in his own neighbourhood but not wanting to return, he presents the audience with a clear demonstration of the barriers placed on young black men in London today. For much of the narrative Daniel is making progress: he has a good job, a wife and a son who he loves very much. He has defeated the restrictions society places on him, but then one more incident happens, yet another unwarranted, unjustified aggression, and he flips. And there are consequences, which are really only the consequence of being black in today’s society.
The simplicity of the lighting works perfectly: stark colour changes call attention to mood variations as well as creating varying personalities for Toby-Amisi. The actor himself is superb: at times innocent, at times frustrated, always quietly confident. He barely simmers with an anger that is completely persuasive in the face of sustained injustice.
The issues Toby-Amisi raises in this work cannot be new to any civically aware citizen with the slightest of conscience, but the fluidity with which he constructs his narrative and the power in his performance reinforce the inevitability of this trajectory. It’s simultaneously heart-warming and heart-stopping. Achingly frustrating is the powerless nature of the life: the easy transition into carrying a weapon because you need to defend yourself, the inability of the surrounding communities to see how their intolerant and blind behaviour creates and reinforces the “other” and the absolute separation from “society” as someone else defines it. This is a really important piece of work that resonates more than ever today. I would really like more people to see this, people of all ages and backgrounds, because accountability is desperately overdue.
Written by: Yan Toby-Amisi
Blud plays at Etcetera Theatre until 15 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.