Brighton Fringe 2021
‘Under Heaven’s Eyes’ is a 60 minute solo word play that asks if the killing of George Floyd marks a turning point for real change or just another false dawn? Despite the global outcry and public machinations over the murder of George Floyd, in America the police continue to instigate indiscriminate, discriminatory and disproportional violence against Black and Brown communities. Is there a parallel history of structural inequality in Britain that encapsulates and underlines a deep racist mistrust between the Black community and the police?
The killing of George Floyd shocked the world and everyone is dealing with this tragedy in their own way – and is trying to understand it. Michael, a forty two year old black man who lives in Leyton, London, with his wife and two children is in front of us sharing his point of view about this and events leading up to Floyd’s death.
Michael is an affable and personable accountant who is “trying to get this Zoom thing happening” to communicate with young relatives living abroad during the pandemic. Like many of us, working from home, he has had time to think deeply about Floyd, Black Lives Matter and from his own experiences the similarities that a black man living in the UK has with a black man living in the US. He strongly hopes that this is the long needed turning point for change.
Christopher Tajah of Resistance Theatre Company writes, performs and produces Under Heaven’s Eyes, a live-streamed online provocative solo dramatic play for one character, Michael, in its debut run. This is Tajah’s second play and it packs a powerful punch. Yet Tajah’s Michael is a measured man who considers the truth and the facts about discrimination with an adept roller coaster of reasoning, emotion and bafflement about how change can happen.
Systemic racism is everywhere, Michael says, racial profiling is a real thing and all around us. Michael states data that shows how police systemically used force on black people compared with white people in both the UK and US – and that now the US Vice President Kamala Harris and US Senator Corey Booker are proposing anti lynching legislation.
Michael’s tone changes when stating the facts and statistics and he is deliberate and searingly makes his point.
He becomes exasperated.
Michael tears up as he tells about other black man murdered in the UK and in the US. It is spine chilling and hearing their names makes one think of this hatred and how hideous it is.
“BLM is not a slogan its a warning” says Michael. Misrepresentation and abuse of black communities has gone on and continues, especially in the inner cities which have poor schools and underfunded social services.
Tajah is an accomplished and dynamic actor and speaks to us directly, through the limited space of the Zoom frame with sincerity and passion. Future iterations of this show will undoubtedly evolve when performed by Tajah in a theatre after the pandemic. Now we can see the character up close and personal, he looks directly at us, wearing a crisp white open necked shirt and black waistcoat, sitting in one place where he uses focused eye contact, natural hand gestures, sometimes he sheds a bead or two of sweat – and adjusts his spectacles now and again. The result is very effective.
Throughout the sixty five minute show Tajah shows a range of emotion through his voice, facial gestures and inner core. His delivery is exceptional, with nuanced timing and vocal variety in this multi dimensional performance, which draws the audience in to listen to Michael and the bigger story from his point of view, baring the raw facts, and through his balanced, empathetic yet pointed character. Tajah’s crafting is well researched, well written and told though this character of Michael who is sincere, sage, heartfelt and emotive, at times poetic – with moments of stream of consciousness. Tajah’s writing and Michael’s character arc combine so that we have space to listen, to hear, to observe, to feel and then to react in our own way.
Tajah’s strength is when he recounts brief stories about black men and the barriers put up to stop them succeeding and progressing in society. He humanises them, and anyone watching can not fail to get the point of Under Heaven’s Eyes and the character’s exasperation at the inequality and brutal pain that so many have lived through and are experiencing. We hear these stories and the horrifying data when Michael tells us about his own experiences feeling that he is being racial profiled daily.
“Nothing changes by itself”.
“It has to stop” he says under his breath.