Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Katt Tait produces a raw, powerful and evocative performance that captivates the audience from start to finish. Her beautiful singing voice combines well with projected images to tell the story of the struggle for freedom for black people in America.
Though appearing simple and minimalist in concept, the show is very cleverly structured. No dialogue is used, just raw a Capella vocals and images. Starting in the early 19th century, Tait begins the show singing behind the curtain, while early images and drawings of repression are projected on the wall. She tells the story by letting the songs speak for themselves, using minimal physical theatre between songs to move the story along. The order of the songs is well thought-out, taking the audience on a journey from heart-wrenching sadness to an air of hope, before providing a reminder that we still haven’t reached true equality.
Tait’s voice is captivating, and her interpretation of the songs shows a deep passion for her work. Showing an impressive vocal range, she maintains her conviction throughout the set, and this is what keeps the audience engaged.
In true Fringe style, the performance takes place in a small black box room. The drawback of this is that the heavily-carpeted acoustics in the room do not allow the performer’s voice to resonate as they may do in a traditional theatre. The darkness of the space is truly fitting for this show, and Tait uses the space well by playing the entire stage area, and a few small hand props help when moving from one scene to the next.
I was mesmerised and moved by the entire performance. Tait’s portrayal of victims of slavery was raw and powerful, and during the times my eyes were transfixed on the engrossing historical images on the screen, I found her voice drawing me to the appropriate time and place in history. The audience appeared similarly engaged, with a respectful silence – not even a fidget – indicating that they were also captivated. There were moments when we were visibly unsure whether we should be joining in with clapping along to songs, and although the stiff British audience is something that Tait will have to get used to, it didn’t dampen her energy or enthusiasm.
The only limitation to this show is the chosen format. There were times when I felt that a chorus would take the songs to another level, but this may have taken away from one of the significant messages behind the play – that we should be free to be who we wish to be as individuals. A lot of the power came from seeing the impact of repression on an individual.
In creating this show, Kitt Tait set out to share the origins of the Negro Spirituals, and let people know that they’re not just a set of beautiful songs, but they are historical documentation relating to the struggles of black people in America. The combination of performance and projection is successful in ticking that box, and this is a show that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.