Woke @ Gilded Balloon
Woke brings a timely, sensitive and incisive narrative to Edinburgh Fringe
The lights redden as Apphia Campbell morphs from one character to another. Without prop or costume change, she overlaps the stories of two political awakenings over fifty years of the same struggle. One narrative belongs to Ambrosia, a wide-eyed freshman moving to St Louis for college. That same summer, in nearby Ferguson, a policeman shot and killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown. As Ambrosia's faith in the justice system is sorely tested, we meet Assata Shakur – an infamous and celebrated activist who has sought political asylum in Cuba since 1984. Parallels between the Black Panther Party in the 70s and today's Black Lives Matter movement are sensitively traced, and Campbell's performance is original and gripping.
Charismatic and powerful, she has a mesmerising voice and sings Bessie Smith blues and original songs to spark hope, strength, determination and fury. A simple set gives space for a heart-breaking discussion of systemic racism, and Woke is proven all the more incisive by this week's disturbing news. It's impossible for the events in Charlottesville not to cast a shadow. As a murder victim is named and videos surface of swastika-tattooed extremists screaming that "Black lives DO NOT MATTER," it's unquestionably clear that white complacency is unforgiveable. Campbell receives a tear-stained standing ovation from a visibly moved audience. This year's Fringe line-up boasts many Trumps, but Woke truly speaks to the politics of 2017.