Samuel Takes a Break…, Yard Theatre, 2024
Photo: Marc Brenner
  • Theatre, Experimental
  • Recommended

Review

Samuel Takes a Break… In Male Dungeon No. 5 After A Long But Generally Successful Day of Tours

4 out of 5 stars

Rhianna Ilube’s audacious debut play is a superb satire on atrocity tourism and the legacy of slavery

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Time Out says

Anyone up for a hilarious comedy about slavery? Rhianna Ilube’s play is as outrageous as it sounds, set in Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle, where enslaved Ghanaians were held before being loaded onto ships and sent across the Atlantic. It’s now a tourist destination, with a gift shop of course, where Samuel hosts hourly tours for diasporic visitors making a pilgrimage to the site for the Year of Return.
 
Ilube takes the premise and turns it into a see-sawing satire about atrocity tourism, where broad comedy – ‘We don’t like the word “slave” here,’ Samuel says cheerily, ‘We have received feedback that it’s not a word people like’ – lurches suddenly into deep meditations on the reality and the destructive legacy of colonialism.
 
At first it’s all short, clipped scenes, snapshots from the hourly tours as Fode Simbo’s uptight, history-obsessed Samuel deals with endlessly crass tourists, all played by the brilliantly multi-roleing Tori Allen-Martin and Stefan Asante-Boateng. Some of these visitors are desperate for a connection with their ancestors: Allen-Martin’s turn as an old British-Jamaican woman talking to her ancestors is particularly moving. ‘Thank you for getting through it,’ she says, ‘sorry I’m here’. Some have just come along for the Insta opportunities - there’s another excellent bit from Allen-Martin as a hideous influencer.
 
All these people are starting to drive Samuel a bit mad. Simbo gives a great performance, all starched and upright, cheerful to begin with but increasingly falling apart, and meanwhile ticket booth assistant Orange doesn’t seem as bothered by the oppressive history of the place. Bola Akeju plays her as purely comic, giving a carefully exaggerated performance full of unexpected line deliveries and over-the-top facial expressions, the joker to Simbo’s straight man.

For all the daft comedy in these scenes, the transitions between them in Anthony Simpson-Pike’s production are total horror: blasts of pure white light or complete darkness, and unsettling, distorted sound. Simpson-Pike really goes in heavily with the humour, but Ilube never lets us stop thinking about the significance of the setting either. It’s those wild swings from one extreme to the other that make this play so fresh and fascinating; its unpredictability, its seriousness of purpose and its lightness of touch in achieving it.

Details

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Price:
£20-£25. Runs 1hr 45mion (no interval)
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