FRIDAY 3rd JULY 2020 


   Here is my take on the eye-opening performance of the play ‘Les Blancs’ written by by Lorraine Hansberry., currently streaming on YouTube by the National Theatre. I think this is what reality theatre should be highlighting. The unacceptable face of a whitewashed history.


    Take a shack, place it in the middle of a revolving stage. Surround it with throbbing beating African music and let the story unfold.
  Except this was no story, this was the largely untold and hidden history of the horror and abject cruelty of racist imperialism. The hidden history of many European countries who colonised parts of Africa and bled the inhabitants dry of resources and treated the inhabitants as slaves or lesser members of humanity. This play obviously focussed on British imperialism, although it was written by an American, Lorraine Hansberry.
  Three African brothers are drawn together to attend the funeral of their Father. The shack represents a mission, where the local hospital is located. At the same moment an American writer arrives to research a book he’s writing on the situation in this unnamed part of Africa. The brothers are all from different spheres of life. The first of the brothers we encounter and who plays a leading role in the play has traveled from the USA, where he is married to a white woman, with whom he has a child. The second brother we meet is a priest who is preaching the white man’s religion and is thoroughly imbued with the white man’s culture. The third brother is a helper in the mission and appears to have a relationship with one of the white medical staff who provides him with alcohol and cigarettes. He is a half brother, conceived as a result of a rape of their Mother by an Army officer.
There are a melange of important characters who make up the white colonial cast, including a blind elderly lady missionary, two doctors, one male and a lady doctor.
The dialogue and the interaction between the various players is a powerful statement of the undercurrents of racism and revolution running through the country at a certain point in time. Revolution against the imperialist invaders is always in the background. The music and the scenes of cold blooded murder, by both the oppressors and the oppressed. There are rumours of white families including babies slaughtered by the rebels as the revolt against imperialism builds apace.
    Watching and recording everything as it happens in this racist microcosm of African life is always the American writer. Observing and questioning the background and behaviour of both the native rebels and the imperialist invaders.
  The language and the portrayal of the white supremacist treatment of the natives is shocking and the murders take place openly. The background culture of the lady missionary and the lady doctor as they try to make sense of an insensitive situation is an education in itself. The military presence is portrayed brilliantly by a cruel, racist military officer who has no qualms about shooting and killing a suspect in cold blood.
  The tension builds as the revolt draws closer and closer to the mission and the white population are ordered to evacuate and leave the area.
  As the American writer leaves, the  lady missionary pleads with him to, ‘Write it and tell it as it is.’
  The play makes its way to the final scenes.  The remaining two brothers are arguing in a passionate scene and the priest is killed by his brother, who returns to his tribal roots and joins the rebels. The revolution arrives with fire as the mission shack is engulfed in flames.
The reality behind this extraordinary play is the hidden history behind the story the author has vividly brought to life. This is the reality of a history that is never taught in schools, perhaps because the establishment is ashamed to draw attention to a past that will always be a stain on the conscience of imperialist colonialism.

  Sadly I think very few people will see this performance as the bulk of the viewers will be too busy watching soaps to tune in.

© Written by John Yeo


Image from the net credited to the Financial Times.



by John Yeo

  We watched a performance of ‘A Small Island,’ screened by the National Theatre. This is a play based on a novel by Andrea Levy, who sadly passed away from Cancer before she was able to see it. 

   This play is based on the Windrush scandal. A reflection of the time when many people from Jamaica in the West Indies arrived in England as citizens. Many of these people had earned their citizenship by fighting for their colonial Mother country of England during the Second World War. Jamaica was a colony of the British Empire and this gave these people the right to take up citizenship in Britain. 

 The play focussed on a few unfortunate people who had arrived in England from their homes in Jamaica to live and work. 

 The play started in the West Indies by highlighting the shortage of employment and the frequent hurricanes and tropical storms that afflict Jamaica. England became something of a paradise, where jobs and houses were freely available and the expectations of these people’s dreams were clearly evident.

 Some had dreams of taking up professional careers or joining the forces when they reached England. 

 The play focused partly on one couple. The man Gilbert, joined the Air Force and had plans to study to become a lawyer. The scene when he was interviewed for his career was illuminating as he was promised a high position. This never materialised as he was immediately placed in a menial position as a driver. The first example of the huge letdown most of these people would experience. 

  A young light skinned, half caste lady, named Hortense, wanted to go to England but single young women were discouraged from applying and she was at her wits end. The only way she could get accepted was to go through a marriage ceremony with her friend Gilbert who would then send for her as his wife. Hortense was a teacher and she planned to continue her teaching profession in England.

   Meanwhile Gilbert had settled in England and after he had left the Air Force, he desperately tried to get a job. He had little success, due to the overt racism of the times. He was subjected to some terrible racial abuse during his employment and was attacked at his place of work. 

  He tried everywhere to secure some comfortable accommodation to rent but once again ingrained racism reared its ugly head with landlords refusing to let their properties to black people. He finally managed to rent a shabby one-roomed bedsit from a landlady named, Queenie, who desperately needed the income from a few rooms in her house and she was happy to accept black and coloured people. 

   Eventually Gilbert sent for Hortense, who arrived and was shocked to discover the living conditions in the bedsit. 

 The racism and the trials and tribulations this couple went through were harrowing to say the least. This story is riddled with some obnoxious scenes of the horrible challenges facing black people in England during this period.

 Queenie, the landlady gives birth to a black child, the result of a liaison with a former tenant. Meanwhile her husband had unexpectedly returned from a forces posting in India and is revealed to be an extreme racist. He demands that Gilbert and Hortense get out of his house immediately.

 Gilbert and Hortense find somewhere else to live and the play finishes with Queenie, the landlady, begging them to take her black child with them as she believed this would be the only way her child could ever expect to be accepted into British society.

 I was vaguely aware of the so-called Windrush scandal, when thousands of black people arrived in England looking for a better life. This eye-opening play revealed the shocking depths of racism that was ingrained throughout society at that period in time. I’m sure there are residues of these cruel, unfortunate, unforgivable attitudes running through all strands of our society still. I think by screening this play the National Theatre has done a powerful service to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Written by John Yeo ~ All rights reserved.