The spoken content of this play, written and directed by Adam Tulloch, is minimal; the direction is bold and brave. This is a simple story: a man and his sister are kidnapped by a slavemaster; they journey to the West Indies and on to Virginia where they are they are bought in the slave market. It is based on the life of Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797), who, with his master, eventually moved to England
Their faces are so highly charged with emotion that it feels as though currents of energy are reaching out into the audience.
The play’s opening is a sustained period without dialogue, a device employed to great effect throughout the play. In the background is the noise of the sea and a ship’s siren. Equiano and his sister stand together with the slave master some distance away. Tulloch is not afraid to prolong this scene. He has accomplished actors whose faces speak volumes and the audience has time to focus on each of them and read their thoughts .
The slave trader looks out to sea and his expression shows obvious concern about the safety of his cargo and the perilous nature of the sea crossing. Snatched from their homes and bundled onto an alien vessel, the two siblings gaze in bewilderment and shake with fear. It is in these silent scenes that Luwagga and Boyd show their outstanding ability to portray the agonising plight of the slaves. Their faces are so highly charged with emotion that it feels as though currents of energy are reaching out into the audience.
The dynamics of this play are also effectively enhanced by casting. Alessandro Babalola, the slave trader, is physically a big man. He towers over the petite Marie-Helene Boyd and the shorter, smaller-framed Jonathan Luwagga. He has considerable strength and can pick up each of the slaves by the neck. His size perfectly conveys his power and control. His hulk occupies the stage, while the weak and helpless slaves recoil, withdraw into corners and grovel around the floor. Throughout the play they demonstrate a remarkable array of physical responses in their roles.
At times it feels as though the story is making little progress, but ultimately it is not the story that dominates this play but the outstanding performances of its talented actors