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The Theatreguide.London Review

Battersea Arts Centre   Summer 2019

The campaign Black Lives Matter inspired thousands to march the streets and to flood social media with their objections to the continual killing of black people by American police.

Woke, by Apphia Campbell and Meredith Yarbrough, conveys something of the protesters' shock at judicial racism, the outrage at police brutality and the excitement of a social movement growing in confidence.

In a fast paced stunning performance, Apphia Campbell plays all the characters, occasionally shaping the play's mood with blues, jazz and civil rights songs.

In 2014 the fictional Ambrosia arrives at university amidst increasing protests against the police killing of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.

When her father warns her 'not to get involved in that mess', she replies in the words of Langston Hughes, 'I don't have to do nothing but eat, drink, sing, stay black and die.'

But she is drawn into the protest, becoming a victim of the peculiar police practice of raising funds by what a later US government report depicted as racist fines.

The show imaginatively dips into African-American history with references to Bessie Smith, quotes from Malcolm X and the dramatic recreation of the politicisation of the 1970s Black Panther activist Assata Shakur, who is forced to flee to Cuba following a false imprisonment for a crime she did not commit.

Assata comments, 'Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions. Shaped by our oppression.'

And as the show froze on a final extraordinary image, the entire audience rose to applaud this very fine performance.

Keith McKenna

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Review -  Woke - Battersea Arts Centre 2019

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