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Theatre Review Virtuoso exposure of colonialism

DAN GLAZEBROOK recommends an outstanding one-man show that explores the colonial history of Sierra Leone

Coleridge-Taylor of Freetown
Rotunda Theatre, Brighton 

 

TAYO ALUKO’s third one-man play tackles the life of George Coleridge-Taylor, Sierra Leonean diplomat and nephew of black Victorian superstar composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. 

After an illustrious career representing his home country in Nigeria, George Coleridge-Taylor moved back to Freetown before getting caught up in the Sierra Leonean civil war. Scenes alternate between his experiences at this time with his attempts to rebuild his life, performing his uncle’s songs on stage around the world, in the aftermath. 

In the Q&A that follows the performance, Aluko reveals that he had originally been attracted to the life of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor himself. Given that he was a mixed-heritage man with a large Afro who died at the age of 37, however, it was always going to be a bit of a push for the Nigerian 60-something to perform him. So he looked for another character through whom he could bring the great man’s music to the stage. 

George was the perfect fit, having led a fascinating life in his own right, including a stint as high commissioner in Lagos during the Biafran war. 

The depiction of the civil war does not flinch from depicting the raw brutality of life during wartime, and can be quite uncomfortable to watch at times. And it is not only our emotions, but our concepts that are unsettled: stereotypes are set up only to be flipped on their head as the plot develops. Patriarchal fantasies are upended and the allegorical meaning of the story deftly refuses the introjection of European fantasies.  

As with all Aluko’s work, the play is peppered with nuggets of anti-colonial history, as George connects with each stage of his tour by paying homage to the popular struggles and heroes they produced. The play also introduces us to some fantastic female revolutionary poets, such as Sarojini Naidu. 

And throughout it all, the acting is awesome. Aluko’s seamless switching between swaggering general and cowering victim is almost alchemical, while the sweetness and beauty of the songs provides a poignant contrast to the often bleak events they punctuate. 

Highly recommended. 

Runs until May 26. Box office: rotundatheatre.com.

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