Call Mr Robeson

Call Mr Robeson is Tayo Aluko’s tribute to one of the twentieth century’s most recognisable singers in terms of looks and voice. A towering man, both physically and professionally, he is most widely remembered for his songs and film credits, but there was far more to him. This show explores and explains the many facets of his complex life.

A very pleasant evening that will attract lovers of Robeson’s music

Robeson was born in 1898, only thirty-five years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, clearing the route for an end to slavery. While the law might have changed, attitudes modified only very slowly and, in some cases, not all. He was to bear the brunt of discrimination throughout his life.

Much of Call Mr Robeson is narrative: a monologue that passes through the ups and downs of a strongly principled man who would not succumb to the pressures he encountered. As such it is highly informative, chronicling his time as a football player at Rutgers and the other career he nearly had, his graduation in law at Columbia, his marriage to Essie, his support for the Spanish Republicans in the Civil War, his affection for the USSR, communism and espousal of worker’s causes, his Welsh connections, his career decline in the McCarthy era and his appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and ultimately his declining health and death. It is not just the big events he outlines. There are touching stories of his family life and also revelations concerning his private life. These events are filled out with anecdotes in an informal style, often with humour and the skilful deployment of different voices for the characters involved.

At times, this history seems to overtake the songs that many will specifically have come to hear, and look forward to. In this respect, there might be slight disappointment, but the great numbers are present, sung with a voice that comes close to one that is difficult to replicate: Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Going Home, Steal Away and, inevitably, Ol’ Man River, among others. The show is well-staged with a dramatic entrance and exit, and props to support his storytelling.

Overall, it’s a very pleasant evening that will attract lovers of Robeson’s music and maybe those who would like to know just a little bit more of his story. 

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Paul Robeson is a world-famous American actor, singer and civil rights campaigner. When he gets too radical and outspoken for the establishment's liking, he is branded a traitor, is harassed, and denied opportunities to perform or travel. This roller-coaster journey through Robeson’s remarkable life highlights how his pioneering and heroic political activism led many to describe him as the forerunner of the civil rights movement. It features some famous songs (including a dramatic rendition of Ol’ Man River), speeches, and a spectacularly defiant testimony to the Senate House Un-American Activities Committee. ‘First rate’ **** (Guardian).