Call Mr. Robeson

Paul Robeson was a great singer and actor and, throughout his whole life, a political activist on behalf of black, poor and working-class people everywhere. Because of his political activities he was attacked by the US Government, prevented from working and had his passport taken away for eight years.Tayo Aluko, originally from Nigeria and now resident in Liverpool, developed this play with the intention of reminding us about Robeson, whom he feels has been largely and unfairly forgotten. It was originally written and performed at the Fringe three years ago and since then it has been performed around the UK and in the USA, Canada and Nigeria.Aluko plays the part of Robeson, as an old man talking about his life and singing some of his famous songs. At the beginning he comes on to the stage, singing but moving slowly, as though he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He tells us about his childhood; his mother who died in a fire when he was six and his father, a preacher, who had escaped from slavery in the South. We learn about his career as an American Football star and his move into singing and acting, which made him famous, and then about his meeting in London with a group of poor miners who had walked all the way from Wales to try to bring attention to their terrible conditions. His relationship with Welsh miners was to last throughout his life. During the second world he gave patriotic performances in favour of the war effort but was criticised for the support he gave to the Soviet Union. Once the war was over he became more openly political and critical of US policy, particularly the failure to remove racial discrimination and to end segregation in the South. He also supported anti-colonial policies around the world, but particularly in Africa. Because of this, he was attacked by the US government, blacklisted to prevent him working and had his passport taken away so that he couldn’t even work elsewhere. His budding friendships with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were both ended in assassination, and he was threatened too. Despite this, he never gave up his political activities.Tayo Aluko gives an excellent and convincing performance as Robeson. It is mostly a gripping monologue, with key elements of Robeson’s life acted out and several of his more famous songs sung, including The Battle Of Jericho, Joe Hill and Ol’ Man River. He doesn’t hide Robeson’s failings, including his long string of women and his uncritical support of the Soviet Union, which show that Robeson was a human being without detracting from his greatness. An inspiring production.

Reviews by Alan Chorley

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The Blurb

This award-winning monodrama takes us through actor, singer, activist Paul Robeson's turbulent life, charting his fall from superstardom to becoming regarded as an American traitor. Includes 'Ol' Man River' and other songs. 'Best male performer', Brighton 2008.