On Thursday, October 23rd 2008, we saw a production of ‘It’s not all Black and White’ written by Hannah Philips at the Birmingham Library Theatre. The play is set in England, in the late 17th century, where a ship had travelled to. On board were black slaves and white masters. It was written in honour of it being black history month and was performed as remembrance. It tracks the passage from captivity to freedom for the slaves. The play shows examples of how the slaves were treated and some of the experiences they may have had in this foreign country to their own.
In the first nine minutes of the play there were only two main actors: Neo Mthimkulu and Fabio Balde. Right at the beginning of the performance, Neo played a slave in the dance. The dance at the beginning was choreographed to convey the struggle and the hard times the black slaves went through during the slave trade. When the music started she shuffled forward on each beat with her hands out in front of her crossed over at the wrist.
This signified that there were chains around her wrists and ankles and that they were weighing her down. During the dance Neo hand to wear a mask and plain clothing meaning she was unable to use speech and facial expressions to put across her feelings and state of mind. She had to rely totally on her behaviour and actions to communicate her sentiments and emotions to the audience, which is quite a hard task, but she managed to do so effectively. Then her hands are held in the ‘white’ person’s hands and she moves forward as if trying to break free. This suggests that she is captured and is trying to get loose. She then does break free but stands alone and does jumpy and rough movements turning right and left quickly off beat to the music. This movement may have been used to show how she was being beaten by her masters.
The jerky movements may have been used to express that the beatings were hard and that is how her body responded to the force of the beatings. She then goes on to her knees while still moving like she is being battered. She puts her hands out in front of her and clasps them together as if she was holding hands on her own. She starts to fall and rise on her knees showing that she is begging her masters to have mercy on her. She repeats this movement several times which makes it look like she is pleaded for them to stop the beating which was she acted out earlier. After this movement, she and her fellow actors start to writhe and crawl on the floor by climbing over one another and putting each hand in front of themselves and dragging it back suggesting that they are crawling away, trying to escape. There is then a blackout, as Neo gets ready to start her scene with Fabio.
Neo and Fabio also played a couple who had had a baby in England, as opposed to their own country. At the start of the scene Neo was standing, facing the audience with her new born baby in her hands. She made a speech on how her baby had been born England rather than her home country. She seemed to act very motherly towards the child and to be very proud of his existence. She showed this by rocking the baby up and down and occasionally looking in to the baby’s face. This made her look like a caring mother who loved her baby a lot. It indicated that she is using her maternal instincts and is taking care of her baby. However, she is also unhappy at the fact that her child had been born in England. This emotion was put across to the audience by her as she stood strong and tall with her back straight showing her opposition to the idea of a British African child.
At this point, Fabio comes in and tries to take hold of his son. He asks, almost begs Neo for his son. This is shown by how he moves towards Neo. He walks up to her with his hands in front of him and palms facing upwards. He also leans slightly forward with bent knees. This position signifies a subservient manner and shows Neo that he doesn’t mean any harm. However, while moving forward Fabio seems quite agitated and shifty, shown by shuffling rather than walking. In response to this, Neo said no and carried on tending to her baby, dismissing Fabio as if saying you can leave now. That action confirmed what she had said with her mouth: that Fabio could not have the child.
Fabio asks for his son again looking intently at the child and moving closer towards Neo. Now his body position has become less submissive and more authoritative as he leans over Neo and says ‘Give me the boy or I will take him’. As Fabio moves closer, Neo’s body becomes small almost as if she is cowering while backing away from Fabio. This shows that she is intimidated by Fabio’s aggressive behaviour and is trying to move her and her baby away from him.
Fabio then takes the baby by force by grabbing it from Neo. Neo pushes against his chest because she does not want her baby to be taken. When Fabio has the baby she attempts to go after her baby and to take it back but she stops and freezes realising that by doing this she may hurt the child. She has its best interests at heart. She looks behind her and looks towards Fabio and gulps showing a nervous disposition and that she is really worried and frightened for her baby’s welfare.
When Fabio smothers the baby’s face, therefore killing the child, Neo is very distraught and grieved at her baby’s death. She runs to Fabio and hits at him and punches him in his arm as an attempt to get him to stop harming her son. She cries heavily heaving out sobs, using her whole body to portray how distressed she is and how miserable she is that she lost her only son who was only an hour old.
Overall, from how Neo Mthimkulu has conveyed all the different emotions in all the different circumstances, she seems like a very effective actor who is able to mould into different characters well and can adjust from situation to situation. She made the scene become real to the audience and expressed the real meaning of the play to an excellent standard. The audience really did see that this play showed the reality and the truth of the Black Slave Trade.