Through the Mud @ Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Apphia Campbell's revamped play about the struggle for racial justice is a timely call to action
Through the Mud, a co-production from Stellar Quines and the Lyceum, is a two-hander adaptation of Apphia Campbell’s solo performance, WOKE. The play opens with projected footage depicting the role of the police in suppressing the ongoing struggles for civil rights in the USA.
The striking presences of Tinashe Warikandwa, playing present-day university student Ambrosia, and Campbell, playing 1970s Black Panther Assata Shakur, eerily resemble Kara Walker’s iconic cut-paper silhouettes against the white projection. Pictorial references to the history of the civil rights movement multiply as the two women walk cautiously across a squared perimeter, eventually taking their place at the centre. Caitlin Skinner’s directing choices (with musical direction by Marie-Gabrielle Koumenda) pinpoint the need to restructure boundaries and constraints that Black Americans have had to endure through history.
The parallel storytelling of two generations of young Black activists provides a poignant reflection on the persistence of systemic racism within the criminal justice system. Ambrosia attends a protest against Michael Brown’s killing by a police officer. As she stands on the sidewalk, she ends up being given a ticket for failing to disperse and other grossly exaggerated charges. Shakur is unfairly convicted for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper and is forced to flee to Cuba.
The similar ordeals of the two women at the hands of the police and the criminal justice system show how little things have changed. It is a stark reminder that Black people and people of colour are still disproportionately targeted and criminalised.
With its dual timelines, Campbell's committed, idea-filled script has moments that are demanding for just two performers and challenging for the audience – Ellie Thompson's video design and Emma Jones' pop art colour palette provide crucial visual nuance and offer much needed breathing space. That said, Campbell and Warikandwa deliver consistently terrific performances.
Through the Mud, Royal Lyceum Theatre, run ended