West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds 10 - 13th October,
Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, Halifax 19th October
Directed by Gale McIntyre
Devised by David Hamilton, Gail McIntyre & Joe Williams
Choreographed by David Hamilton
Reviewed by Murray Moss
'Nothing worthwhile is gained without struggle' - the words of Frederick Douglass, the son of a slave mother who went on to become a leader of the abolitionist movement and hold high rank in the US government. His is the central story of this hybrid performance piece, which combines dance, movement and the spoken word to create an engaging, educational and entertaining seventy minutes of theatre.
Originally made and performed in 2005, this is a new version re-presented to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery. Gail McIntyre directs with a light touch, the simple staging on a bare stage with a few symbolic props allowing the performers the freedom to unfold the story with considerable expertise; it is a delight to watch two such skilled performers tell the story of Douglass' flight from slavery to freedom, to abolitionist leader and inspirational speaker, charting his journey from America to Leeds and Halifax. In what is now West Yorkshire, he fired the imagination of young people, empowering them to join the abolitionist movement and to continue their action to educate the cotton mill owners to the inhuman source of their wealth.
Both Gee Goodison and David Hamilton are consummate performers, combining grace, athleticism and humour in their movement with spoken narrative and dramatic text. When they move together an evocative visual language is created, their different but complementary dance and movement styles embodying the narrative and allowing the emotional tenor of the story to emerge through interestingly choreographed set pieces and other seemingly improvised sections. The less successful moments of the performance happen when there is too much spoken prosaic narrative that occasionally sits rather heavily upon their poetic movement, squashing the energy out of the performance. In places a sparser and more poetic text would in this reviewer's opinion have served the piece more fittingly.
But the performers' energy and grace is never in doubt and they unfold Douglass' story to a soundtrack that evokes the oppressive cotton fields of the Americas but also utilises the liberating rhythms of reggae. Commemoration, Education and celebration all in one performance.
Photos by Photographer is Simon Warner. Top: Gee Goodison, Middle: Gee Goodison & David Hamilton, Bottom: David Hamilton