Iona Ramsay reviews Black Spring, a poetry, music and storytelling piece that aimed to set the record straight on the 2011 London riots.
Black Spring, Directed by Ebe Bamgboye, challenged the publicized account of the 2011 London Riots, re-writing the story through poetry, music and storytelling. This piece captured, with beautiful sensitivity, the countless perspectives which form a narrative; leaving no voice unheard and no story untold.
As the audience entered the theatre, the set design was instantly transformative; turning the Barron into a street corner in London. Two large black flats, covered in relevant graffiti, gave the stage this authentic street-corner feel, while opening up the space for more seating. Arranging the space like this created a claustrophobic environment which added to the intensity of the piece. Although effective, the two-sided audience occasionally confused the direction of the actors, blocking off either one audience or the other from the action of the play. Despite this, several sequences (namely the opening) were made incredibly watchable through this diagonal positioning. Sharnika Power-Montaque, the co-writer and assistant director, opened the show with a poem which shook the entire room with its sheer truth and elegance. The full cast were involved in this opening section, using their various vocal pitches and dialects to fill the room with the provocative words. This piece was beautifully written and constructed, starting off the show with a bang.
The play itself walked us through the everyday lives of different individuals and families living in a town affected by knife crime and drug abuse. Director Ebe Bamgboye created moments of light and shade, encouraging both laughter and tears in sometimes the same scene. This was particularly potent in a scene between Ayesha and Susan, two pregnant women (played by Anoushka Kohli and Laura Briody) in a hospital waiting room. Their class divide was evident, and was played upon for comic effect when comparing baby names, amongst other things. Through these comical moments, the audience were able to see how both were simply concerned and anxious mothers, facing their own struggles and hardships. I found this scene particularly emotive, as it helped to reverse the demonization of both the youth and the police force during the riots; a goal the play hoped to achieve.
Music was a strong influence in the show, with both Anoshka Kohli and Danish Sajjad (playing Abdi) singing at different points. The use of acapella vocals were haunting in both cases, although entirely different. Both of these sections were simultaneously gripping and heart-wrenching, and introduced another medium through which the story was told. I felt a slight absence of music in other aspects of the play, especially in transitional moments between scenes. However, this was a minor silence in an otherwise booming play; which spoke volumes and set fire to the Barron theatre.