Tuesday, December 5

Out of the Narrow Place: A Ritual for Black Descendants of Slaves – Unity Theatre

Out of the Narrow Place is an invitation. It may not seem it from the title if you are not descended from a slave, but from start to finish the audience are invited to engage with – and celebrate – black history, black culture and black Britishness. The only pre-requisite is the ability to think. Using the ability to think is a choice.

Garnering a standing ovation and very positive comments from a diverse audience, this was an evening to remember. Unity Theatre has given a gem its debut. The most striking thing about Out of the Narrow Place is it traverses being both a story and a statement; both entertainment and a lesson. If theatre is deemed an opportunity to bring people together, an opportunity for sharing, connecting and collective experience, this does it.

The audience member next to me encompassed the atmosphere at the end when he commented to his companion “I loved that. I’ve never seen Unity as transformed as it is tonight.”

Like identity, Out of the Narrow Place is hard to define as one entity. It fits more than a single category when describing what it is and juxtaposes light-hearted entertainment at some points with serious, topical subject matter. There were laughs during the performance as well as moments of introspection. As the artist asks at the very beginning, why are you here? What do you expect?

By the end, the audience has gained a much deeper understanding of those questions.

Written, performed and directed by Aleasha Chaunte of One September, Out of the Narrow Place blends experiential art with spoken word, storytelling and stage theatre. The use of these methods –executed with a commanding presence – showcases Chaunte’s creative talent. One September describes themselves as “a performance production company that is motivated to challenge injustice and promote human rights through high-quality, socially engaged arts practice” and this is done in a bridge-building, reflective way. The choice to think, and what to think, are left with the audience.

Upon arrival the audience are welcomed with an electronic candle, programme and blank envelope. Instead of settling straight into the theatre, we huddled upstairs in the bar to anticipate the start of the show, none of us quite sure what to expect.

Chaunte then appeared on-screen as a recording. She welcomed those in the room to the evening with some reflective prompts delivered conversationally. Every aspect of this event has been carefully considered. Closing the video, it became apparent that we were to bear witness to a ritual, should we take up the invitation to do so.

Lighting our candles, we walked into the theatre. Dimly lit with seating around the edges, it had a cosy, communal feel. Chaunte, with her four helpers (Michelle Peterkin-Walker, Maisha Marsh, Suzie Goligher and Nina Lipman) were sat around a long table dressed with props. Together, they engaged the audience with some of the history of black slavery. This was done by making links between the theatre’s history and their own family history, and by considering the customs and cultures that are the fabric of present lives. At the end, attendees were invited to stay and have some food upstairs, with catering provided by Squash. Again, the bar was packed out.

Out of the Narrow Place gives a voice – a personal, human voice – to part of recent history, bringing its impact to life in the present. A thought-provoking piece of work delivered with warmth and technical skill; this is worth experiencing should the opportunity arise again. To follow Chaunte’s work, find her and One September on Twitter as @aleashachaunte and @OneSeptemberArt.

Reviewer: Ezzy LaBelle

Reviewed: 14th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★