This stunning show from performer Selina Thompson takes the form of an account of an epic journey she undertook to try and retrace her family’s migrations – some forced – across the Transatlantic slave triangle. A Brummie of Jamaican descent, she began her trip with a lengthy voyage in a cargo vessel from Antwerp to Accra; then on to the slave fort at Elmina where her ancestors might have been shipped to the West Indies; a stint in Jamaica itself; and a final transatlantic voyage back to Britain.
But the real story is that of Thompson’s rage, hurt and dislocation, her sense of nowherelessness in a Britain still charged with accidental and deliberate racism. ‘Where are you really from?’ is the question the British ask her all the time, a polite inability to accept her as one of them. She seethingly recounts: 'Europe pushes against me. I push back’.
While obviously a great yarn, the odyssey wasn’t a soft-soap ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’-style ‘journey’, but a hard, harsh slog that exposed her to yet more racism and ostracism.
Thompson’s performance is fantastic, a calmly ferocious, almost forensic dissection of the daily emotional toll of being a young black woman in this country (and others). Her tone is an icy calm that that politely damns us, her overwhelmingly white audience, for our blithe lack of agonising over our place in society. It’s punctuated by her smashing a huge chunk of salt with a hammer – redolent, perhaps, of slave labour, but as it breaks down an allegory for Thompson’s own cultural dispersal. And there is a phenomenal, ever-present score from Sleepdogs, that buzzes and jangles constantly, refusing to allow us to become too settled or comfortable.
It bothered me for a long time that performing a show like this for an audience like us constitutes a compromise of sorts. But in the end Thompson finds a generous route through it, suggesting in some small way the sharing of her story is the sharing of her burden.