Thursday, 13 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Woke - Battersea Arts Centre, London.

Usually, when the title of a play is a buzzword, it’s not going to be good. But this was not the case with 'Woke' by and starring Apphia Campbell. If you can get passed the title, you’ll be in for an enthralling ride.

'Woke' tells the story of two women — Black Panther Assata Shakur and university student Ambrosia — as they navigate the United States’ justice system as Black women. Although the play straddles between 2014 and the 1970s, it couldn’t be more timely. As Assata struggles against segregation, Ambrosia is living in the aftermath of  Mike Brown’s death. Both women must learn what it means to be Black, while simultaneously defining "Blackness".

To Campbell’s credit, it was a smart move to have the audience follow Ambrosia’s journey to activism. She begins as an energetic and na├»ve student, eager to break away from her parents and find herself at school. During her first class, which just so happens to be African American Literature, there is a debate which kickstarts the play: Is there a difference between activism now and that of the '70s era Black Panther Movement? The class says no, but Ambrosia says yes, to which her attractive classmate responds by urging her to visit Ferguson, Missouri and see what the Movement is like for herself.

Ambrosia learns powerful lessons in Ferguson, like how maybe it isn’t a good idea to sing a love song at a rally and most importantly, how she has few rights as a black person. As an American and black woman, I know the ladder and what happened in Ferguson all too well, so what bothered me is that Ambrosia isn’t changed until after the rally. It’s not until she is personally confronted by an officer that she begins to sympathise with her community. I found this scene particularly selfish and a bit contradictory to the overall goal of the play. Had this moment been the end to an accumulation of injustices that Ambrosia witnessed instead of the only one, I would have sympathised more with her. Fortunately, as 'Woke' is written so well, this sequence did not overshadow the other powerful moments in the play, and powerful they were.

There is no doubt that Apphia Campbell is a powerhouse of an actor. She danced through emotions and eras with ease and every time she sang, she made us feel her pain. What few critiques I had were easily undermined by the impactful work of this writer and actor. If the subject matter doesn’t grab you, I urge you to see it just for Campbell’s acting. You will not be disappointed.

Reviewer - Rebecca Tessier
on - 12/6/19

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