REVIEW: Black Men Walking (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

 © Tristram Kenton
© Tristram Kenton
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

Inspired by a real-life Sheffield-based Black men’s walking group, Black Men Walking is an influential and compelling brand new play written by Leeds-based rapper and theatre-maker Testament (aka Andy Brooks) in collaboration with Eclipse Theatre Company.

On the first Saturday of every month, a group of Black men meet to ramble through the Peak District. Taking in Yorkshire’s breathtaking landscape – it’s a way of escaping the day to day, making new friends and sharing their identity as Black and British together. The men talk about their own personal life experiences and discuss stories of the Black people who walked Yorkshire long before them; reaching as far back as Roman times, they claim it was an African who put the York into Yorkshire.

This particular Saturday it is just Thomas (Tyrone Huggins), Matthew (Trevor Laird) and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu) who show up for the monthly walk as the other group members have been deterred, due to the stormy weather forecast. The characters are beautifully layered, and each of their different experiences are explored, from difficult family relationships and music to racism and the way the media portray Black men.

Under Dawn Walton’s well-paced direction, Tonderai Munyevu gives a finely nuanced performance as Richard – fresh from a Star Trek convention and laden with a selection of chocolate bars, he is kind-natured and incredibly funny. Southerner Matthew is strongly portrayed by Trevor Laird – a doctor and family man, who is constantly receiving messages on his phone, hinting that he has some issues at home. Tyrone Huggins’ Thomas is the most senior member of the group, possibly showing early signs of memory problems and hallucinations associated with dementia. When the men find young millennial Ayeesha, played by the captivating Dorcas Sebuyange, on the top of the Peaks, their experience swiftly changes as the full complexities associated with being Black and British are unravelled.

Testament’s writing is poetic and punchy; honest and important; witty and urgent. Black Men Walking faces stereotypes head on and then blows them apart in order to present the real identities of Black people living in Britain today. This is a much-needed production which seeks to illuminate Black Britain’s important identities and missing histories.

-Kristy Stott

Black Men Walking runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until 3 February 2018.