Two young women, living similar lives, doing similar things: applying for jobs at cafes, buying alcohol, going to parties. Yet one is black, and one is white, and this means their similar actions yield widely different results.
This intense poignant performance is worth a watch.
This is the impetus behind A Matter Of Race: to show that the way one’s life turns out, the way one is treated by society, is determined in degrees larger than many would like to admit by the colour of one’s skin. There is, Zakiya Theatre argues in this short, graceful and angry performance, a matter of race to be dealt with in present-day Great Britain.
Unfortunately, there is some cliche in this story arc. Not in the pointing out of racist microaggressions or the presence of white privilege: these are realities that are sadly defining elements of our time, and they are important to confront and represent on stage. Rather it is the way they were represented in this production that seemed cliche. The two actresses, Karr Kennedy and Jessica Bichard, also the two people who make up Zakiya Theatre company, showed the audience in various sketches the insidiousness of everyday racism. Although never straying from truth in these sketches, they seemed to lack at times nuance or insight, seeming political messages without explanations of why or what can be done.
Again, this is not to detract minimally from the message of the performance itself, which made it in any case a worthwhile one for me. The point is solely that when doing political theatre, a genre I greatly enjoy, it is important not to make one’s message too heavy-handed, turning the piece into something more like propaganda than a complex, multi-layered piece of art; and Zakiya Theatre did not always heed this advice.
In any case, whatever it was, A Matter Of Race was beautiful to watch. Kennedy and Bichard did a magnificent job in giving their timely polemic form on stage. Often the show was a mix of physical theatre and poignant, well-performed spoken word, blending synchronization and off-beat moves to reflect the sameness of intentions and yet difference in results of these two women of different races. Kennedy and Bichard managed to use the small space on stage and the proximity to the audience to great effect, as well as choosing background songs that fit the mood perfectly.
The use, particularly at the end, of dramatic, real-life cases of vast diversity in treatment of black and white young women, by the media especially, heightened the urgency of the show, ensuring the emotional impact of its end.
Overall then, this intense poignant performance is worth a watch. If at times its message seemed heavy-handed, the importance of such a message at this present time, along with the poetry of the performance itself, compensated to make these two young and daring performers enjoying to watch for 45 minutes.