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Review: An East London play set in Cape Coast that tackles the slave trade and identity

The AKADi Magazine team (Abena Sεwaa and KAmo) went to see the showing of the ‘Samuel Takes A Break….in Male Dungeon No.5 After A Long But Generally Successful Day Of Tours’ at the Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick in February. Abena gives her highlights and verdict of the show.

Orange and Samuel in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner
Orange and Samuel in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner

‘Samuel Takes A Break….' tells the story of a guide at Cape Coast Castle whose pride in his job and historical knowledge of Castle and Transatlantic Slave Trade is tested during encounters he has with tourists – forcing him to reflect on his identity.


Why Samuel (Fode Simbo) is at the Castle in the first place remains unanswered. He says his mother left him as a child and remains convinced that decades later, she will come back for him. 


And according to Orange (Bola Akeju) – Samuel’s colleague - Samuel doesn’t seem to ever leave the Castle - something that adds to the mystery behind the play. Is he a ghost?


Transatlantic trauma

If you’ve ever been to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana’s Central Region, you’ll know that this place was one of the centres for the trade in human beings in Africa.


Rhianna Ilube Credit Becky Mursell
Rhianna Ilube Credit Becky Mursell

Millions of people experienced unimaginable mental and physical torture, rape and for some death while others faced the trauma of being shipped off to the Americas and Caribbean and the prospect of a gruelling life that awaited them there.


Anthony Simpson Pike Credit Camilla Greenwell
Anthony Simpson Pike Credit Camilla Greenwell

This play, which is written by Rhianna Ilube and directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike, explores that Transatlantic legacy, the displacement of people, cultures and identities through the encounters Samuel has with the African descendants that visit the Castle for his tour.


What I thought the play handled well was flagging up these themes, which included colourism, and even a passing reference to the ‘c-word’ - complicity in the Trade. By introducing characters from the USA, the Caribbean and Britain, the audience got to explore narratives from the African diaspora around identity, and trauma.


Samuel is also forced to explore his relationship with that period in Ghana’s history in a more personal way, which causes what I can only describe as a mental break down. This approach may be intentional but just like his state of mind, this play moves in multiple directions with threads of thought that are not revisited, explained, or resolved, leaving me feeling quite lost. 

The stage is set for 'Samuel Takes A Break...' © AKADi Magazine
The stage is set for 'Samuel Takes A Break...' © AKADi Magazine

Historical connections

There’s a point in the play where Samuel and a Black British couple – Letty (Tori Allen-Martin) and Trev (Stefan Asante-Boateng) visit the living quarters of the late Cape Coast Governor George Maclean. 


George governed Cape Coast from 1830 to 1844. His wife – the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon – died months under some mystery after arriving. George, who died a few years later, and wife are buried at Cape Coast Castle.


During the play, the Black British tourist couple either pretend to imitate the governor and his wife or become possessed by their spirits – it’s not clear which one. But I guess there’s a clue in that both the Governor’s wife and the tourist share the same name. And I believe (don’t quote me) there is a reference to Samuel reading of Letitia’s books.


No sooner does this episode materialise, the incident abruptly stops and the storyline moves swiftly on without explanation. 


The ‘possession’ scene felt like an opportunity to add further intrigue to the play but when that disappeared, it made it a struggle to understand the plot and the purpose.


Humour through trauma

The play is an ambitious exploration into some gritty themes related to an ugly period in world history. But I think I would have preferred for some of these topics to be explored in more detail than they were.


Any discussion around the Transatlantic Slave Trade is heavy so it was nice to see that mood punctuated by the light humour brought by Bola. She was one of the reasons why I wanted to see the play after her performance in the ‘African Mean Girls…’

Orange in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner
Orange in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner

Having her be the first person we see as you enter into the theatre space at the Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick, helped to bring us the audience closer to the whole experience. And the ‘chat’ that Samuel has with the audience of ‘tourists’ made the whole experience quite intimate.


Small details like the Kalypo juice box that Samuel drinks, the exclamation of ‘brofo’ by Orange when Samuel uses a big/unfamiliar English word were excellent touches that spoke to me as a Ghanaian.

Samuel in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner
Samuel in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner

I liked how the playwright incorporated particular parts of the tour – such as the cells designated for the so-called ‘difficult’ people, and the door of no return.


Influencer shares her Cape Coast Castle experience with her social media followers © Marc Brenner
Influencer shares her Cape Coast Castle experience with her social media followers © Marc Brenner


Tori was superb at channelling the different tourist characters. I especially liked her take on being a social media influencer who was visiting the Castle for the first time and brought her Instagram family online to experience it with her.

Letty and Trev in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner
Letty and Trev in Cape Coast Castle © Marc Brenner

The ending was not what I expected and after such heightened feelings (punctuated by dramatic lighting and music) throughout the performance, I was left feeling like the story was unfinished. But I like what happened with the ambitious Orange at the end, which possibly means there is room for a sequel.



The Yard Theatre is at Unit 2a Queen's Yard, London E9 5EN, is two minutes’ walk from Hackney Wick Station, and 20 minutes’ walk from Stratford Station. 


The programme © AKADi Magazine
The programme © AKADi Magazine

Tickets

Tickets are priced from £12. Locals get 30% off all tickets with a free Yard Local Card. U28s can get £5 tickets on the door to all performances that are not sold out with No Empty Seats.

Date and time 

9 February - 23 March

Monday - Saturday at 7:30pm

Matinees - 2:30pm

Tickets can be booked at theyardtheatre.co.uk


This article is an original piece written by AKADi Magazine. The contents of this page cannot be reproduced without permission.


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