The Watford African Caribbean Association and Watford Palace Theatre marked the bicentenary with a special performance created by the Watford African Caribbean Association writers' group in collaboration with writer Michael Bhim and director Gbolahan Obisesan. The three month research project led to the production of prose, drama and monologues covering all aspects of the slave trade.
In conjunction with York Theatre Royal, Riding Lights Theatre Company produced a new play written by Murray Watts, directed by Paul Burbridge, with original music by Nigerian musician Ben Okafor. African Snow: Secrets of the trade was originally commissioned by the Church Mission Society, an organisation founded in 1799 by representatives of the abolition movement, including William Wilberforce. The play sought to explore the ideas associated with antislavery and how they can be put to use in the modern day campaign for the end of slavery. Opening at York, the play went on to have a West End Transfer followed by a national tour. The main characters are John Newton, the converted slave-trader who later wrote 'Amazing Grace', and the former slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. The play saw them confronting each other’s differing perspectives, creating a dialogue in which the audience could witness alternative views towards slavery. A 'snow' was a class of ship, commonly used for the transportation of slaves. 'The African' was the first slave ship on which John Newton sailed.
Am I Not a Man and a Brother? was a piece of documentary theatre devised by Reveal Theatre Company in partnership with North Staffordshire Racial Equality Council. It used stories and testimony from the African Caribbean community in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, interwoven with historical and contemporary slave stories. The play was produced by Robert Marsden and Julia Barton. The production was launched at the Stoke-on-Trent Racial Equality Council - where it was performed to the local people who had contributed their stories and was accompanied by a performance by a local Black choir - and then toured to venues in Bristol, London and Liverpool.
A performance by the London Shakespeare Workout based on George MacDonald Fraser's novel 'Black Ajax'. The play, set in Regency England, tells the historical tale of two enslaved men through dialogue, song and verse. One slave is from America, another is from Africa. The former, Tom Molineaux, becomes the first Black Prize Fighter in Britain. Black Atlas featured an original score by Tim Williams. The play opened in Cambridge and toured to 40 different venues around the UK.
Black Man Don't Float? is a play developed by Sameboat Project, a not-for-profit organisation working in collaboration with the Pierian Centre Bristol, Gecko Theatre Ipswich, and the Arrow Project at University College Plymouth. Set in the ocean off West Africa, a white yachtsman collides with an African economic migrant who is trying to reach the Canaries in a home-made vessel. They have to co-operate to survive, but their differences lead to confusion. Performed by West African performer Ayodele Scott and UK-based writer and performer Martin Hubbard, Black Man Don't Float? was shown in the UK and then travelled to Sierra Leone. The show was accompanied by a workshop entitled Fair Share, exploring issues around the fair sharing of resources, and the challenges facing developed and developing nations in their negotiations about aid, trade and the exploitation of natural resources.
A play performed by Second Step Caribbean Women’s Group Agewell at The Library Theatre in Sheffield in October 2007. The play was funded by South Yorkshire Community Foundation.
A play written and directed by Suzanne Hawkes, 'Breaking the Chain' is a dramatic account of Thomas Clarkson's role in the movement to abolish the slave trade. The abolitionists Olaudah Equiano, Granville Sharp and Joseph and Katherine Plymley are also portrayed in the production. Equiano's accounts of the slave trade from his 'Interesting Narrative' feature as dramatic imagery, and the play also examines infamous events that aided the abolitionist cause, such as the uproar surrounding the case of the slave ship 'Zong' and the decision by its Captain to throw overboard 133 enslaved Africans. In 2007, 'Breaking the Chain' was performed at various venues in Suffolk.
Word of Mouth Media Production, based in Southwark, staged a production of Celia at New Players Theatre in London. The play was directed by Malcolm Frederick and written by Richard Nyeila, inspired by Melton A. McLaurin's biography 'Celia A Slave'. Based in the mid-19th century, the story revolves around Celia, an enslaved woman on trial for murdering her abusive owner.
Dreams of an African Child is a one act play about the 21st century sale of children in the River Volta region of Ghana. It was written by Robin Graham, produced by The Ugly Tree and Greenhouse Northwest Theatre Company, and directed by Toria Banks. The drama centres on the reactions of a rural African family when their teenage son, missing presumed dead, returns home to his family after being sold eight years before. The play was first performed in Accra in 2004, and then in 2008 toured schools and community venues in the North of England and Wales. Workshops were held to discuss the issues of child trafficking raised by the play.
On Sunday 25 March 2007, a ceremony was held on Cathedral Green in Exeter to mark the bicentenary. Organised by Exeter City Council, the ceremony was attended by members of the public and individuals representing local organisations. Historian Lucy MacKeith examined the links between Devon, the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. Extracts were read from the Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, and names read aloud of some of the Africans who came to Devon because of the county's connection to the slave trade.
The play 'Albert and the Story of Equiano' was performed at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in October 2007. It told the story of Olaudah Equiano, a leading African figure in the British abolition movement in the 18th century.
'Field Slave Number 139' was written and produced by Ava Ming, and commissioned by The Drum in Birmingham as part of their Routes to Freedom programme. The play focuses on a love story between a dark-skinned field slave and mulatto house slave on a plantation in America's Deep South. 'Field Slave Number 139' is written mostly in monologues with occasional interaction between the actors: all three were on stage for the duration of the piece. The 2007 production featured two performance poets and a local actor.
Hetty, Esther and Me was an original drama researched, written and performed by Trafford Youth Service and 15 African Caribbean girls from Stretford High School. The play was performed at Quarry Bank Mill, a working Georgian cotton mill on the outskirts of Manchester, owned by the National Trust. The play centred on connections between cotton produced by slaves and child labour in English mills, and the wider social issues of slavery and poverty during the Industrial Revolution. The story was told through the relationship between a slave girl (Hetty), a young mill worker (Esther) and a group of young women living in present-day Trafford.
The Inhuman Traffic project was led by Gloucestershire Archives, in partnership with the Set All Free initiative. The virtual exhibition and accompanying web resource were based on documents held at Gloucestershire Archives and, in particular, the papers of the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp (1735-1813). The exhibition explored topics such as the contribution of black people to the abolition movement, aspects of the legacies of slavery, including racism and domestic violence. Over 400 copies of the exhibition DVD were sent to schools, churches, tourist information venues and individuals across Gloucestershire. The associated programme of events included performances of the play 'Inhuman Traffic', developed in collaboration with a local theatre company, Spaniel in the Works. The play features four interacting characters with different perspectives on slavery. A cross-curricular teaching resource was later developed, which included a second performance, 'Master and Slave', in partnership with Stroud District Museums Service, Spaniel in the Works, and Parliament Primary School, Stroud.
London Shakespeare Workout presented a new 21-song musical, celebrating the life of the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's parents were freed slaves and he used some of their tales of plantation life in his work. Set backstage in a British theatre in 1897, the play explored themes such as love and loneliness, racial interactions, and the abolition of the slave trade. With an original score by Tim Williams, the play opened in Westcliffe, and toured 26 venues around the UK. Each performance was followed by a ‘talk-back’, allowing audience members to share their views on the issues raised by the production. Special interactive workshops were also created for schools and community groups to bring the concepts of slavery and abolition to life through history and literature.
A play by the Malcolm X Elders Theatre Company in Bristol, addressing issues of age, identity and heritage.
Written and directed by Mervyn Weir, 'Nobody Knows' used drama, dance, music and imagery to explore the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy today. Told through the eyes of Olaudah Equiano, the play celebrated the dignity, pride, and spirit of Black people as they fought for emancipation from slavery. In 2007 the play was presented by Krik Krak productions during the Routes to Freedom season at The Drum in Birmingham.
'One for Me' was a touring play by the Fairgame Theatre Company that was performed at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. Set in 2007, the play focuses on a local MP driven by a mysterious stranger to explore the history of slavery and the wealth it generated.
Historian Simon Schama's true story of a plantation slave (Thomas Peters) and a British naval officer (John Clarkson) and their search for freedom at the time of the American War of Independence. Schama's account was adapted for the stage by Caryl Phillips, directed by Rupert Goold and produced by the Headlong Theatre Company. It explores ideas of racial identity, home and freedom, as former slaves who fought for the British army are led across the Atlantic to the newly-created province of Sierra Leone. The play toured West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Liverpool Everyman and Lyric Hammersmith.
Two plays, Slave Ship by Amiri Baraka and Land by Edson Burton, were presented in Bristol by Say It Loud, a multicultural arts development organisation. Slave Ship was first performed in the United States in 1967. Land was written especially for the bicentenary project. In conjunction with the project, Say It Loud organised drama workshops on the subject of slavery in Bristol schools.
Hull Truck Theatre supported Wilberforce 2007 with two specially commissioned productions, Slavers and Sold, and a playwright festival. For one week in August 2007, Hull Truck Youth Theatre presented Slavers, set in 2007, which told the story of abolition through the eyes of young people in Hull. Written by Rupert Creed and directed by Karen Dainty, the play followed a group of school leavers and their potentially prosperous business-start up, trading in human cargo. When some started questioning the morality behind the business, the audience was transported back to the debates of Wilberforce and his allies two hundred years previously. Another play, ‘Sold’, in conjunction with Liverpool Hope University, sought to raise awareness about the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation today.