The Death of a Black Man at Hampstead Theatre
Debuting in London on 28th May, The Death of a Black Man is a revival of the original play by Alfred Fagon. The production, which returns 46 years after its Hampstead premiere in 1975, is from an essential generation of Black British writers. A dark and powerful drama, The Death of a Black Man simultaneously evokes terror and hilarity. This long-awaited comeback follows the story of Shakie, an 18-year-old dealer, whose life is going incredibly well: his furniture business is thriving, he’s finally making some money and he even owns a flat on the King’s Road, the epicentre of everything that’s considered cool. However, when his ill-intentioned and troubled ex-lover Jackie arrives at the flat, alongside his best friend Stumpie – with his grand plan to promote black music in the UK – the audience immediately sense that something is about to go horribly wrong. There’s an almost tangible sense that these two characters will completely disrupt the happy life that Shakie has managed to build for himself “doing business with the rich and the poor”.
The whole play takes place in Shakie’s living room. The use of a single location creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere, whereby the spectators’ experience becomes increasingly intense and at times uncomfortable in the intimacy of the performance. The audience are left with the feeling that they are all in it together and cannot escape. They have to be there.
Making her directorial debut at the Hampstead, Dawn Walton works with intelligence and creates an insightful piece. The show succeeds in the believable portrayal of growing conflict between the characters, masterfully performed by Nickcolia King-N’da (Shakie), Toyin Omari-Kinch (Stumpie) and Natalie Simpson (Jackie). Omari-Kinch’s delivery is particularly captivating, as the actor effortlessly brings to life the several nuanced facets of this incredible character, who transitions from carefree, cheerful music-lover to violent, frightening bully.
The characters are interpreted with an incredible amount of wit and skill, each depicted as struggling with their identity and the painful notion of being alive in a time and place that prevent them from feeling at home. The Death of a Black Man explores with disarming honesty the struggles that black entrepreneurs faced in 1970s London, the theft and devaluation of black culture and the problematic treatment of women within society.
46 years on, this revival raises many of the same questions we face today surrounding the issues of identity, capitalism and sexual politics. Overall, it’s a theatrical experience that still resonates today and will leave viewers deeply struck.
Photo: Marc Brenner
The Death of a Black Man is at Hampstead Theatre from 28th May until 10th July 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.