THE 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery was marked by various events, ceremonies and rather meaningless apologies.
But last night’s heartfelt production of musical theatre, Speaker’s Corner, would do more to provoke emotional reactions and to inspire than any politician’s dry rhetoric.
Speaker’s Corner is just that: a chance to pour forth opinions, anecdote, stories, jokes and popular song, all accompanied by a live house band.
Enter seven lyrical artists and MCs – Decifer Soundz, Mad Flow, Malika Booker, Marva Alexander, RT, Shane Solanki and Yusra Warsama, from a variety of cultures and backgrounds.
They blend together their thoughts on slavery, oppression, freedom and its contemporary meaning.
At times, the soundbites are disturbing and oppressive, speaking of rape, torture, chain gangs, mutilation and brutality of a bygone age.
But they also include modern interpretations of slavery – Chinese cockle-pickers, an Indian parental nagging voice, a white racist youth who is slave to stereotypes and the downward spiral of anti-social behaviour orders leading to a life of crime and jail.
Set against the monochromatic backdrop of an urban cityscape, the only stage furniture is a collection of soap or orange boxes of differing sizes. Initially carried around by the main players, they also serve to create height and scenery.
Some artists climb into the boxes’ tiny spaces, mimicking incarceration.
Despite its weighty subject material, the production is injected with bright moments of humour and self-mocking, with musical influences from rap to reggae to ‘80s band The Specials.
The attractive young cast’s exuberance, honesty and intelligent poetry can’t fail to win over its audiences and leave them feeling strangely elated.