Saturday 8th October 2022 at Wesley Centre, Harrogate.
Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored is a heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat, thoroughly gripping two hander. It is incredibly powerful theatre.
The premise is simple: when Reece calls out to his teacher for help while Police push his face into concrete, he expects help and instead faces a deep sense of betrayal when she fails to intervene. Unable to come to terms with the fact that he, a young Black man, was abandoned by a Black woman he was certain could and should have helped, he locks himself in a classroom with her to get the answers he needs – only to get far more than he bargained for out of the experience.
Nana-Kofi Kufuor’s writing is breath-takingly broad in its handling of subject matter, covering huge issues and entrenched debates one after the other after another without ever allowing any subject to be too briefly covered; each debate is given enough air time to let the space crackle with brutal truths before moving on to the next subject. Director Dermot Daly finds every subtlety of the script and somehow manages to channel the depth and breadth of emotions to keep the rollercoaster gripping the tracks.
Jelani D’Aguilar’s performance as Reece is phenomenal. He expresses the shifting emotions of a vulnerable young man feeling ever on the edge of everything. There’s strength and defiance and sensitivity to the performance, showing Reece to be a deep thinker with thoroughly considered beliefs based on engagement with past and present alike. D’Aguilar’s physicality in the arrest scene is perfection (Movement Director: Rod Dixon) in its suggestion of the presence of aggressive officers who lay hands before asking questions, and he gives a masterclass in controlling and releasing powerful emotion without allowing it to feel too much or too little for the circumstances.
Misha Duncan-Barry’s performance as Gillian, the teacher, is equally superb. She expresses a spectrum of conflicting emotions and experiences with a sense of bruised strength which wavers and falters but never quite abandons her. As a professional Black woman navigating a tough job while feeling just as much of an outsider as Reece, Duncan-Barry offers a moving display of inner turmoil and external composure which is forever on the brink of cracking.
The characters role play to interrogate each other about their views, values and experiences and we gradually begin to build a picture of what causes them to view each other with such stark dismissiveness. What gradually begins to illuminate within this enclosed space is a complex blend of ignorance and wisdom which constantly shifts, and the recurring issue of what is means to be Black is often at the heart of this stand-off. They constantly clash because the differences of experience obscure the facets of life they share; every time common ground is tentatively found, the individuality of each character disrupts the moment in a perfect obliteration of any offensive perceptions of people as monolithic groups.
This is very powerful theatre. The audience barely moved after the lights went down to signal the end of the performance – no one caught the cue to clap when the lights went up, and there was a distinct absence of the usual post-show chatter. There are times when you realise you’ve forgotten to blink as the characters and the writing form such a tight grip on your focus. And it’s not just that this is a phenomenally powerful script, it’s that this cast meet the demands of such a powerful thing in a way that fleshes out each clash and verbal blow to the full. This is must-see theatre which not only grips on a performance level but carries resounding importance for the world we’re living in.
My Voice Was Heard But It Was Ignored is a Red Ladder Theatre Production. It tours until October 15th 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.