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Assata Taught Me – Review Assata Taught Me – Review
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Assata Taught Me – Review

Power belongs to the people. So go. Get yours! These are the potent and provocative finals words of this highly intense and uncompromising must see production.

 

Set in a shabby dimly lit Havana apartment, Kalungi Ssebandeke’s slow burning but ultimately explosive production explores through an imagined encounter with young Cuban man named Faunco (Kenneth Omole) the life and times of Assata Shakur, (Adjoah Andoh) a convicted former Black Panther and Black liberation and rapper Tupac Shakur’s godmother, who escapes to exile in Cuba.

 

After rescuing Faunco from a fight and agreeing to be his English teacher we quickly learn that the Cuban has an unquenchable desire to leave his country and family for fame and fortune in America. Tempering and countering this craving is Assata’s undisguised hostility and loathing of her former homeland and Government.

 

We slowly learn of Assata’s past as a freedom fighter and political activist fighting for the freedom and liberation of her people from what she believes was an oppressive and racist Government who she also believed convicted her on trumped up charges.

 

This initially and humorous standoff and clash of cultures slowly deteriorates as the play progresses and descends into anger and hostile exchanges culminating in a very unsettling ‘lynching’ scene as Assata’s tries to reinforce in Faunco’s mind the reality of life for a Black person in the land he so desperately seeks make his home.

 

“I wanted to explore the idea of two people with completely different ideas and goals whose only commonality is the colour of their skins.”

 

With the realisation of her ‘worth’ and his insatiable desire for money, the play’s conclusion is bloody, jarring but yet in many ways unsurprising.

 

Frankie Bradshaw’s set designs with its bare breeze brick walls, flickering lighting and fading and peeling walls magnificently captures the shabbiness of everyday life in poverty stricken Havana. With the addition of some sharply perceptive directing by Lynette Linton, the play is an intelligent, brutal and timely reminder of the complexities and consequences of Black political struggle both in America and the Diaspora.

 

In a recent interview with Ebonyonline.net director Lynette said “I wanted to explore the idea of two people with completely different ideas and goals whose only commonality is the colour of their skins and the untold story of this figure in Black history” In this regards she truly succeeds.

 

Ajoah is marvellous as the wily, battle worn activist with the manner of a coiled deadly snake ready to strike at anything in her path. Whilst Kenneth in his debut professional role truly excels as the naïve, optimistic and politically untainted man whose love for America is infectiously engaging but flawed. The chemistry between them is truly enthralling, as it slowly slides from joviality to hostility. I was a joy to witness and worth the price of the ticket alone.

 

“I also wanted to tell the life of this Black female political activist, whose story I felt needed to be brought to a wider audience.”

 

With echoes of the Black Lives Matters movement and the injustices witnessed on our screens daily, Kalungi weaves a tale that forces the audience to confront their reality and ask themselves some hard questions such as has much changed from Assata’s days? What are we, as the masses prepared to do, if anything to resist the oppression many experience in their daily lives. To echo Assata’s final words are we ready to make that sacrifice and go and get what belongs to us?

 

Whatever your political standpoint, Assata Taught Me is a remarkable piece of theatre. Not only will you witness some outstanding acting and directing the themes explored with linger long after the curtain comes down. Thought provoking, certainly. Is that not the purposes one of theatre after all?

 

Assata Taught Me
4-25 May, Gate Theatre, W11 3HQ
Click here for details and ticket info