Thursday, 29 September 2011

From page to stage, The story of Slave – A Question of Freedom. The Unity Theatre, Liverpool.

 In 1806 local philanthropist William Roscoe angered the slave traders of Liverpool by speaking out in favour of a bill to abolish the slave trade.

The pool of life had grown rich in its principal role as Britain’s main slaving power.  It’s hard to believe that in the progressive modern world this diabolical way of life still exists. However, Mende Nazer’s harrowing story, “SLAVE” , tells us otherwise.

Mende Nazer had her childhood ripped away from her one harrowing evening when raiders swept through  her tranquil Nuba village, slaughtering the adults and rounding up the  children of the village.

Mende was sold to a wealthy Arab family who lived in Sudan's capital city, Khartoum. She was subjected to appalling physical, sexual, and mental abuse. She had no rights, no freedom, and no life of her own. Her captor labelled her as YEBIT, a girl worthy of no name.

Seven years after she was seized and sold into slavery, she was sent to work for a diplomat in the United Kingdom. In September 2000, she made a dramatic break for freedom. 

This thought provoking biography highlighting the power of the human spirit has now been transferred to the stage in an adaptation by Kevin Fegan and Caroline Clegg for Feelgood Theatre. It arrives at Liverpool's Unity Theatre,  Tuesday 4th –Sat 8th October 2011.

FIRECRACKER had the opportunity to discuss the origins of the play, the evolution from page to stage with director Caroline Clegg,

In 2005 a friend of mine gave me the book Slave by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis which was to change both the course of my professional life and my perspective on freedom forever.  As I read, tears of sadness and rage fell from my eyes and by the last chapter, I knew that I had to take action.  
Like many people I believed the slave trade had ended 200 years ago, but as I read more, I realised that the abhorrent trade in people is now more widespread than at the height of the transatlantic trade, with up to 27 million people enslaved or in forced labour around the world.  Mende’s story had been the catalyst to remove the blinkers from my eyes; it was as if her voice had woken me with a violent scream which now echoed the silent scream of millions of others.

As a director, the way I can hope to make a difference is by telling the story and so the journey to put Mende’snarrative on stage began.  Having worked with Feelgood in Africa over the last ten years creating shows infused with the exquisite sound of African drumming, a capella harmony and dance, I felt stylistically that I was on familiar territory – in Slave I could hear the rhythms, sense the heart beat of the earth in the Nuba culture.

I first met Mende in a coffee shop in Queensway and we talked nonstop for three hours.  Mende had never been to the theatre and I tried to articulate how I would dramatise her life on stage.  Sitting there with the most inspirational woman I have ever met, I was struck by what I was asking of her – to trust me, a complete stranger with her story, her ‘voice’.   She told me that she wanted us to speak out to help others.  

Storytelling is at the heart of the Nuba culture so we began with their oral tradition, telling a story around a fire.   It was important to celebrate Mende’s family life and culture, to allow the audience to appreciateMende’s deep loss at being denied the right to be with her people. The Nuba songs, music, dance and visual imagery are all natural elements in their daily life and, therefore, in our show. Mende’s narrative is a dark and tragic tale, but it is also full of beauty and joy.

The theatrical adaptation of Mende’s tale illustrates the impact of theatre and how it can transfer negative experience into a life lesson that also celebrates the power of the human fighting spirit. FIRECRACKER will be attending.

SLAVE is at The Unity Theatre Liverpool Tuesday 4th –Sat 8th October 2011.