Dan Takyi’s latest work integrates his poetry into a smooth narrative on race, set over the course of a single train journey. Black Training takes us for a ride in a train carriage from the perspective of two young black Britons.
Andrew Karamura and Tasmin Martin-Young portray our protagonists. Despite the relative simplicity of the setting, this play’s fantasy comes not from the situation but from the response which Takyi’s script provides. In less than an hour, Karamura and Martin-Young experience the everyday racism they are accustomed to in modern Britain, with the exception that today they are not letting it slide, and Takyi’s prose delivers a searing refusal to accept each instance of the white privilege that surrounds them. He’s not created any bizarre scenario; instead, our heroes emerge because they struggle to let normality continue. In just four everyday interactions, they introduce and address the common experience they’re tired of explaining, in a tone similar to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No
Longer Talking to White People about Race.
This play hasn’t been produced for the sake of the students performing in a play, and it seems a bit ridiculous to treat it as such. Durham University People of Colour Association have provided a refreshingly unfamiliar cast to the Durham theatre scene, and aren’t pulling their punches.
This is a short lesson in specifying what racism looks like; and I’m ashamed to say it’s needed. “Am I your pet, that you have to stroke my hair?”, is just one of many questions raised over why we treat black people casually different. “We should only speak in RP”, spits Karamura, because otherwise the moment a black person speaks colloquially, they’re dismissed as stupid. “They’re brave enough to call us a thief, when they’re the ones who stole our cultures” sets the tone for the piece – DUPCA are just sick of having to constantly look the other way despite the relentless prejudice they’re faced with.
“What if I’m not a fighter? Well, then you can lose and become a statistic”. This is a play that expresses the sheer boredom of having to constantly prove your intelligence, and where your every action could impact how others are subsequently treated.
“You don’t have to be intentionally racist to be complicit in racism”. This is a play that is driving a message, with Takyi’s words emphasised above the performance itself. Nevertheless, the transitions between scenes were smooth, and the supporting actors delivered their lines clearly. Often Karamura would get so involved in the reality of his words that he would turn his back to the audience, which was regrettable but lent authenticity: the overall message was that they weren’t playing at racism, but reflecting a reality.
One could worry there is danger that the audience weren’t necessarily the ones who needed to hear this play – but as one audience member loudly cheered after the conclusion, “I can listen to Dan Takyi’s poetry all day”. There were lessons that no one is too wise to learn, although ideally we’d learn them faster. The supporting cast created apt caricatures to hammer home the struggle people of colour face.
Durham Student Theatre has struggled to escape from the trope of period dramas lacking artistic relevance. The People of Colour Association haven’t hidden from controversy with this piece. After criticising gollywog dolls and Michael Jackson impersonators wearing black face-paint, Odi Oladuji appeared as a racist “Old Bloke” wearing white face paint, to visually demonstrate to the predominately white audience why black-facing is insensitive.
It’s important to view this production as a political performance. The writing makes up for the standard of the acting, and at times, Takyi risks losing focus by incorporating so many tangential issues that it risks overwhelming us. Hopefully this will encourage more diverse student theatre in the new academic year.