Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“Njambi McGrath’s Breaking Black is an exploration of a black British/African woman’s experience in a hostile post-Brexit Britain and a highlight of the struggles and fragility of immigrants who are too often used as political bait but are a necessary backbone to the functionality of modern Britain. The Black African woman is either completely ignored or too often portrayed in a one dimension paradigm of the victim of disease, war, or in need of saving from primitive cultural practices.”
Billed as “a black British-African woman’s experience in a hostile post-Brexit Britain”, this fifty-minute stand-up comedy show more than delivers on that promise as we also get some very funny and cutting insight into life in Kenya. So, we have a story abut being the only black African living in a white neighbourhood in London, set in the larger context of the impact of the British Empire on Africa and other parts of the globe, and how that has come back to haunt us today. That makes this a satisfying layered show and it’s that deeper context that gives the show its strong punch. Laughter is certainly there for the many one-liners rooted in observation, but also there’s a deeper more tragic laughter at the nature of Britishness and the consequences of forcing that culture onto other peoples and nations.
So, the impressive impact of the show comes from its core argument: That immigration to the UK is partly the result of Empire, of the imposition of British culture abroad. Our negative stereotyping of black Africa is a long-term P.R exercise to assuage our own guilt at slavery and exploitation, by painting a negative picture of people who enthusiastically struggle to get into the UK – a UK that imposed itself into African culture over centuries – with good and bad results.
Delivery is confident, with plenty of observational comedy. This performer has done her research (Her own book was lightly mentioned). The time races by, the audience laugh and are often shocked and surprised at what is revealed. We are informed, taught, comically berated and often shocked by the experiences of this confident comedian. She has done her research and crams a lot of revealed facts into the show, pointing out our double standards with an ease that creates the cutting edge. Set pieces are fired at us with deceptive gentleness. It’s hard-hitting edutainment, yet it is all crammed in a bit too much. Sometimes the delivery is too “whoomphy” via an over-loud microphone for such a small performance space and there isn’t time to digest it all before we are onto the next set piece or bit of observation.
I laughed, sighed, and occasionally felt frustrated at the lack of clarity in some of the delivery, almost wishing we had a show with no microphone at all in the small, intimate space of the Attic at the Counting House. This was an engaging, revealing fifty minutes, enjoyable and, for its chosen material, important. A show that deserves to be seen.