Salt. at the Royal Court Theatre
Britain has a very unhealthy relationship with history. Opting for a jingoistic, Tory-friendly re-telling that charts the rise and fall of monarchs before jumping to the triumphs of two World Wars and one World Cup, its colonial past and role in the transatlantic slave trade goes under, if ever, explored. Yet the country, and European continent as a whole – with its listed buildings and glittering glass structures sitting cheek to jowl – is “awash with blood”.
Selina Thompson stages the burden of the black body growing up and living under such a history, in a country that has moved on without a backwards glance, in Salt. Diaspora travelogue, conversational essay, poetry: it is a phenomenal piece of writing that would stand tall in any form. The artist, via performer Rochelle Rose, tells the story of how she retraced the three points of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle – Europe (the UK), Africa (Ghana), the Caribbean (Jamaica) – a hellish journey involving the belly of a cargo ship and days-long flights.
In a looping, lyrical, physically gripping scene, The Woman sledgehammers pieces of salt crystal – sweat, sea, tears – zooming out from her arguments with her travel companion to the silence of the ship’s Filipino workers, the abuse of the officers, the bullying of the racist master. Even further, to the corrupted union, the greedy company, the European states, the -isms that dictate all of this. The chains of command that shape our world, shrunk down to one gruelling trip across the water.
Immediate personal grief blends with centuries worth of lost life, the ocean a mass grave. Throughout, The Woman talks to and of her family; imaginary conversations and those enabled by Skype. Seeking home “in places where you can’t belong and in people that you can’t belong”, but rooted to a sense of family that can pull one back from the depths.
Rose – given the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of the person who went on the journey, wrote the play and then performed it hundreds of times – exudes a calm confidence and control, even in moments of anger and duress. Her demeanour, like a bright-eyed spiritual guide, enhances the idea of this play as a ritual, especially in the final moments, as the light comes to focus on her face and the insistent low drone of the music starts to encompass the rolling waves of the sea.
Photo: Johan Persson
Salt. is at the Royal Court Theatre from 14th May until 1st June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.