Hear Me now is the sublime new play, written and directed by Mya Onwugbonu. It held its first run at Southwark Playhouse in November 2022 before being picked up for the VAULT Festival 2023. This one act tableaux of spoken word poetry, movement, and scenes depict the effects of racism in Britain today with nuance and depth, creating self-reflection throughout the audience, working wonders as an addition to this year’s festival.
Entering The Vaults feels a profoundly different energy than a typical theatre venue. The effervescent graffiti art covering the walls and the underground feel provide the perfect setting for an innovative and modern piece of London theatre such as Hear Me Now. The playful and young feeling of the performance space tantalisingly compliments the new and innovative writing being portrayed. Upon entering The Cavern, the space the performance takes place in, we’re seated on two rows of benches either side of a tunnel shaped room. Around us are beautiful artworks depicting different aspects of the black experience, adding to the obvious and necessary celebration of Black-created art. This traverse/catwalk stage perfectly compliments the necessary self-reflection that this show encourages; we as the audience are spectators who are responsible to create a better, more equal future that acknowledges our differences and the damage done through history.
The production began with the entire cast entering the space, immediately whisking us away into the dynamic and endlessly fruitful poetry of Onwugbonu, who uses language to remind the audience that every Black experience is different, but still intrinsically linked. The reality of the words being said, combined with the high-fantastical delivery felt fresh, individual, and successful in making the shows content memorable.
While the quality of writing was the evident backbone of this production’s success, it would be unjust to not spotlight the work of the cast. This group of performers work successfully as a collective to highlight a spectrum of British Black individuals’ experiences with race. From school students, to parents, to teachers, the cast work impeccably to present this linguistically challenging text to such a high degree of success. Some particular individual contributions worth noting include Sofia Keita who presents a real and identifiable young Black voice facing difficulties in school, Zee Obeng whose steadfast performance creates a thread running throughout the work, and the gut-wrenching demonstration from Corey Fraser illustrating the effects of knife crime in Britain. The ensemble as a whole uplift and encourage a well-rounded and thought-provoking performance.
Leaving this show with a profound sense of self-evaluation, joy, heartbreak and promise felt like a perfect allegory of what I had just witnessed. Onwugbonu describes Hear Me Now as ‘Community, Blackness and Art,’ and this is exactly what it is – and so much more. This work should be shared and encouraged as it delivers great strides in contributing towards a better future for everyone.
Written and directed by: Mya Onwugbonu
Produced by: Burnt Orange Theatre
Hear Me Now played as part of VAULT Festival 2023. It has now completed its current run.