Written and performed by Sutara Gayle aka Lorna Gee and presented by Hackney Showroom, The Legends of Them makes its world premiere this month at Brixton House.
Gayle is an incredibly accomplished artist with a profound musical history. As Lorna Gee she has played an influential part in the British reggae scene and won multiple awards for her contribution to that genre. She wrote the popular song Brixton Rock in response to the Brixton Riots in 1981 and partook in the Artistes Against Apartheid concert in 1988. To outside eyes, Sutara has lived an exciting, socially impactful life yet, there’s far more to discover about her than meets the eye. In this showshe bares all; celebrating her triumphs and sharing her sorrows.
In essence The Legends of Them is a one-woman autobiographical depiction, but that doesn’t quite encapsulate the experience of the show. The project has been in the works for eight years and with its interwoven, complex narrative it’s clear to see why that time was necessary to develop such an ambitious production. The performance is akin to an immersive, theatrical art installation with projections, music, poetry and song (including some of Sutara’s own influential repertoire) helping to create a timeless space. It’s a dreamscape where Sutara fluidly shifts from one character to the next; transporting us to her past as Lorna Gee, emerging in the present as Sutara Gayle and finding her purpose in her ancestors.
The title refers to key significant figures in her life, who also feature in the play. Their existence has been integral to the evolution of Sutara’s journey and throughout the piece she acknowledges how they represent a reflection of herself. A story about her is therefore also a tribute to them, as without their impact her destiny wouldn’t quite be the same.
This is a dense play, compactly filled with metaphor and meaning, and one worth watching more than once to catch the intricacies layered within it. However, due to the non-linear narrative structure, there are moments of ambiguity which make it difficult to keep track of what state or timeline is being presented. This does not detract from the overall performance, though. Instead it actually emphasises the ephemeral, overlapping nature of Sutara’s memories and helps create tension as the play comes to a crescendo. It is further aided by Sutara’s strong, robust performance, filled with humour and pathos. She confidently guides the audience through a tumultuous, yet life-affirming, experience, culminating with the end of the play but the beginning of her awakening.
Alongside the production there is an exhibition showcasing Sutara’s life and accomplishments. It additionally pays homage to a number of unsung women who were also instrumental to the scene during the 80’s in Brixton and is a fitting accompaniment to a show with its roots firmly based in South London.
It’s very likely that this will not be the final iteration of this play. Much like Sutara’s journey, this production lends itself to be ever-evolving, which is quite exciting. Original, unique and entertaining, this is a great show to check out this September.
Written by: Sutara Gayle AKA Lorna Gee
Co-created by: Nina Lyndon and Jo McInnes
Directed by: Jo McInnes
Sound Design by: Tony Gayle
Projection Design by: Gino Ricardo Green
Lighting Design by: Joshie Harriette
Composed by: Christella Litras
Costume Design by: Melissa Simon-Hartman
The Legends of Them plays at Brixton House until 30 September. Further information and bookings can be found here.