Studio – The Vaults
Reviewed – 30th January 2020
“a masterclass in storytelling with minimal set, proving the power of words”
It’s the first week of VAULT Festival, London’s ever-expanding arts event, and 2020 appears, so far, to be the year of powerful messages and thought-provoking performances. SOLD very much fits this bill. A hugely evocative piece of Black British theatre, it effectively portrays our human need and right for freedom.
SOLD tells the story of Mary Prince, a West Indies slave who went on to become a British autobiographer and abolitionist. Her tale was the first published account of a black woman’s life to hit the UK. Kuumba Nia Arts takes Prince’s story off the page and brings her to life in a vivid, raw fashion. Amantha Edmead becomes the courageous woman as well as the numerous white enslavers that Prince was passed between. The back breaking work, the lashings, the inhumane living conditions of Mary Prince’s life are depicted in graphic detail. Edmead is joined on stage by Angie Amra Anderson, fellow performer and drummer, where together they use traditional songs and rhythms of West Africa to intertwine and be at one with the action.
This is a masterclass in storytelling with minimal set, proving the power of words. Edmead is a pro at manipulating her body, face and voice to transition with ease between ten plus characters, all done with such precision that never once does it get wishy washy and confusing as to who she has morphed into – even in regularly fast scene changes. Edmead throws emotional punches that land right in your stomach, forcing you to not sit there impassive and apathetic.
Anderson’s drumming is an integral element of the performance. It’s a relic of Mary’s past, her heritage. The beat of the drum is like a call to arms from her ancestors, willing her to find strength to carry on. Anderson could so easily be detached from the action but director Euton Daley purposefully encompasses her into the story, creating a dialogue between the two women.
A simple metal frame that’s wrapped in rope and costume pieces (created by Nomi Everall) is the centrepiece and main component of the set, giving space for the story to dominate and take the spotlight. The most striking element of the set is the hanging noose that looms at the back of the stage, striking a blunt reminder of how ever present the threat of death was in the life of a slave.
Often slavery is remembered in an American context but SOLD unapologetically reminds us how big a role Britain played in the business of selling human flesh. Mary Prince was just one of the millions who endured the barbarism of the slave trade, but one of the few whose personal, detailed account of it has survived. This is an important story that needs to be passed down and passed around so that we remember. As is mentioned at the end of the show, this is a piece of history still very much a part of our present.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole