[Film Review] Voices from the Black Row: Preserving the Legacy of Black Theatre in the UK

How many Theatre productions or plays can you name that have been written by Black people? This question was posed to a number of seasoned and aspiring theatre practitioners in documentary ‘Voices from the The Black Row’ which was screened at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn.

The documentary a collaborative effort by Narrowpath Films and Theatre Director Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway and supported by Theatre Royal Stratford East also featured monologues from a number of black playwrights performed by the film’s cast members.

Hodge-Holloway, encouraged by Actor & Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah created The Black Plays Archive, a useful resource featuring the first professional production of every play by black British, African and Caribbean writers in the UK. She has also produced two books entitled ‘The Oberon book of Monologues for Black Actors‘ which feature the work of both classical and contemporary pieces from Black British plays.

phillip headly In attendance at the screening and also featured in the film was Phillip Headley, the Theatre Director at The Theatre Royal Stratford East for over 25 who spoke about the importance of not only having more black plays but also allowing the ownership of the productions also to be lead by black people.

He was responsible for giving an opportunity to 8 young black actors called ‘The Posse’ to put on a production of Armed And Dangerous. The cast who wrote, directed and did the marketing for the play which was a satirical view of modern black British life in sketches, dance and ensemble routines – included Robbie Gee, Michael Buffong, Romero Evans, Eddie Nestor, Sylvester Williams, Gary McDonald and Victor Romero Evans would be the start of a number of budding careers in the TV and Theatre world.

Although the documentary was focused on Black Theatre it was interesting to note that although a number of the cast were unable to name plays that the TV show Desmond’s was repeatedly mentioned as a show that was pivotal in showing a black experience that they could relate to.

BPA_imageIt was said during the Q&A that there are 400 archived Black plays, something which both myself and many members of the audience were surprised to find out. It begs the question who’s responsible for getting this information out there and encouraging aspiring actors/actresses to discover such texts?

With not much time left for questions after the film, the conversations took place outside and I had the chance to speak with the films director Alfred Mante of Narrowpath Films and also Simeilia about plans for future screenings as well speaking to the other attendees about the thoughts on the film. Our conversations were similar in that we realised there was an issue and wanted to find solutions to ensuring that our legacy in the world of Theatre was not only being preserved but also easily accessed.

Check out the trailer for the documentary below: