Tuesday, June 18

The Great Privation – Theatre503

Shortlisted for the 2023 Theatre503’s International Playwriting Award, “The Great Privation” is a generous play filled with wit, vivid characters, and clever observations on systemic inequalities and the generational gap in African American experiences, which under Kalungi Ssebandeke’s direction sometimes lacks a little risk and finesse.

Reminiscent of Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park,” this UK debut play for Harlem playwright Nia Akilah Robinson navigates a dual timeline in Philadelphia: one in 1832 in an African Baptist Church’s graveyard, the other in modern times at a cabin behind the same burial site.

The story centres around Missy Freeman (Sydney Sainté) and her daughter Charity (Christie Fewry), who, in 1832, pray at the tomb of Moses, their husband and father, victim of a recent outburst of cholera, hoping for his soul’s return to Sierra Leone. Their burial ritual is interrupted by Resurrectionists, hired hands both white and black, instructed to excavate the recently deceased body for medical experimentation.

Jumping back and forth to modern-day America, the same duo faces racial discrimination as employees at a kid’s camp, from both black and white management and staff. The daughter has now social demands her 200-year-old ancestor would have never even dreamed off, which her loving mother attempts to moderate to ensure the teenager’s future.

Photo: Sami Sumaria

Sainté, a New York City native with a gift for language and a gorgeous voice, leads the cast with nuance and poise. Fewry brings Gen Z rebellion to the table with hilarious accuracy. Romeo Mika as Cuffee, the camp manager and graveyard janitor, effortlessly steals every scene he appears in. Jack Gouldbourne as John, the ever benefiting white man, completes a cast who though solid, sometimes plays a little safe, failing to elevate an otherwise potent text.

Whereas the author’s notes demanded a “speed of lightning” dialogue, the direction favours a slower delivery which feels at times undeservingly scholastic. It thus takes too long to get to the core of what is truly a riveting, under-discussed subject: the perennial denial for African Americans of a right to their own selves, past, present and future, even in death.

Ruth Badila’s set design, an all-white mansion exterior, establishes the tone off the bat. It somehow brings in an echo of Audre Lorde’s most famous observation, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,”. However, the profusion of doors and windows on every wall remains an unclear metaphor. The atmospheric soundscape by José Guillermo Puello and the lighting design by Chuma Emembolu further create a vivid sensory experience.

Reviewer: Klervi Gavet

Reviewed: 22nd May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.