Brighton Fringe 2008
Call Mr Robeson
Venue: The Joogleberry Playhouse 16th + 18th May
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Follow singer/actor Paul Robeson’s turbulent life, as his radicalism grows and he becomes increasingly, bravely critical of the government in pre-civil rights America. Features several songs and speeches.
Calling Mr Robeson saw Tayo Aluko take the role of Paul Robeson, successful American singer, actor and civil rights activist for those of you not in the know. Aluko’s strong and soulful singing voice was employed to good use interpreting a range of Robeson’s songs. The show was also interspersed with fragments of Robeson’s rousing speeches, given at rallies, performances and conferences.
The play occasionally lacked in dramatic tension; the early stages in particular were quite meandering as the audience was given an introduction to Robeson’s family background. It was in the final third that the play ignited as it took in Robeson’s crisis of confidence in the civil rights movement accompanied by his failing physical and mental health. These sections, skillfully lit and deftly performed, were particularly affecting.
Elsewhere another section documented Robeson’s experience with the House of Un-American Activities Committee. In this regard the play operated as an interesting social document regarding the civil rights movement and the transitory nature of celebrity. It did well to illustrate the shifting cultural landscape of America especially in the careful use of props, press clipping and old photographs strewn about the stage
The approach to biography taken by the show was quite linear and familiar and it didn’t break into any new formal territory. However, in spite of this, the dramatic and eventful circumstances surrounding Robeson’s life and the convincing performance from Aluko more than carried the show.