Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is one of this country’s great classical composers and conductors. His cantata trilogy The Song of Hiawatha is considered the best adaptation of Longfellow’s epic poem, and he had a celebrated career in the UK and abroad. Despite this, he died in 1912 at the age of 37, exhausted and in poverty. This was the end result of a lifetime spent resisting white supremacy that oppressed him for his Blackness.
Unseen Unheard, a show seeking to improve the representation of Black women with breast cancer, is a co-production between Black Women Rising and Peckham Theatre. The production emerged from the real stories of black women’s struggles after a cancer diagnosis and the myriad problems that the system affords them, based on their race. From the belief that black women don’t feel pain – “they see us as superhuman and subhuman at the same time” – to the absence of prosthetics of an appropriate skin tone, point to health inequities that the statistics sadly bear out. Black women are 28% more likely to die from a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis than white women with the same diagnosis.
This is an innovative play that presents the true history of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were used to create the first immortalised human cell line. It opens with a rhythmic, spoken-word monologue delivered by Henrietta (Aminita Francis). We soon learn that her DNA, nicknamed by herself as “Did Not Ask”, was non-consensually taken from her body in 1951. It has since served as the key basis for medical research, including the development of HIV vaccines, investigation of cancer cells and more recently, the COVID vaccine.
George Floyd’s murder in 2020 was the catalyst for worldwide Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism. Though at the time white governments, institutions and individuals made loud commitments to fight racial injustice, there has been a lack of meaningful change since then. By drawing on numerous recent and historical acts of violence against Black people, theatremaker Christopher Tajah’s solo performance reinforces just how deeply racism runs in white supremacist societies.
In May 2021 I, a Jewish man, tweeted my thoughts about David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count. In response, I received a swathe of antisemitic messaging, including a direct message telling me that this person wished that the Nazis had won.
It struck me that the journey to Dido’s Bar, through east London, past City Airport and to a warehouse adjacent to Tate and Lyle’s sugar refinery, allows us to imagine what it feels like to be a new arrival in a strange world. And this, Dido’s Bar, a reimagining and retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid, centres Dido’s narrative, namely her experience as a refugee in a foreign land.
Peaceophobia, co-produced by Speaker’s Corner Collective, Common Wealth Theatre and Fuel Productions was conceived in Bradford in 2018. After four years in the making, and multiple delays caused by COVID-19, it made it to GDIF 2022, demonstrating that it is possible to turn community-led theatre into headlining events.
Nouveau Riche, creators of the hit show Queens of Sheba that confronts systemically ingrained misogynoir, now focus on the experience of being a Black woman actor. Using music, beatboxing and spoken word to expose the microaggressions and racism that shape their working lives, the show is a rallying cry for change within theatre and film.
Frank Ocean fills the air, and audience members tap their feet and nod their heads in time. I jokingly ask my mum if she recognises the song as I recall how I wailed and begged about 10 years ago for her to download his album onto her iPod. Indulging in Frank Ocean’s music is like a Black right of passage. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t adore his range, and if you don’t – you’re lying.
Guido Garcia Lueches is an actor from Uruguay who lives and works in the UK, which means that xenophobia and racism shape his day-to-day life. When he’s not attending auditions where he is asked to embody Latinx stereotypes, he regularly endures microaggressions from British people. This constant stereotyping is so unrelenting that he’s made a satirical, interactive show about the importance of fitting in as a migrant.