Woke @ Gilded Balloon Teviot

Woke is a galvanising piece of political theatre, drawing parallels between the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter

Review by Conor Loughrey | 20 Aug 2019
  • Woke @ Gilded Balloon Teviot

Apphia Campbell’s Woke is an ambitious piece of storytelling brimming with righteous anger and joyful rebellion. Campbell skilfully navigates from singing the blues to evoking riots armed with just three prop stools, her shape-shifting acting prowess, and her incredible vocal talent.

She moves between the story of a naïve and sheltered university freshman who finds her respect for the police force turned upside down in the context of the Ferguson riots in 2014, and that of Black Panther Assata Shakur fighting for black liberation in the 1970s and subsequently finding herself harassed and eventually framed for murder by that same force. Sprinkling these parallel narratives with blues, gospel, and original music, political poetry and literature, and with audio recordings of racist politicians from back through the decades, Campbell strengthens the links between the struggle of the Black Panthers and of the Black Lives Matter movement today.

Woke doesn’t always maintain its most engaging qualities, and the narratives of both characters can feel slightly disjointed and hurried at times. The staging too doesn’t always meet the high standards demanded by the general quality of the show. At its best, however, this is electrifying theatre – and the one-woman crowd scenes are particularly impressive at their climaxes.

The piece ultimately serves as an attack on the institutional racism at the core of the US justice system, but also as an inventive celebration of the African-American culture that has served to strengthen the movements fighting back against it. In this context, Woke as galvanising political theatre is a true success.

Woke, Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar), 23 & 25 Aug, 4pm, £13-14