Black History Month Performances

The Department of Theatre and Performance presents a series of screenings of performances for Black History Month

The screenings will feature iconic performances of dance, opera, Shakespeare and contemporary theatre that showcase black companies, stories, characters and/or playwrights from the US and UK. The short series coincides with Black History Month and celebrates the talents and contributions of black artists while interrogating white authorship and how production can address issues of representation and disrupt paradigms of white privilege.

Tuesday 12th October 2021 at 6:15pm. St. Johns Campus EE1061

Porgy and Bess (1935) by George and Ira Gershwin / Dubois and Dorothy Heyward

The Gershwin’s jazz inspired opera tells the story of an impoverished African American community in Charleston. Porgy is a disabled man trying to rescue Bess from her possessive and violent partner, and her drug dealer, Sportin’ Life.  It contains well known songs such as ‘Summertime’ and ‘Bess you is my woman now’.  White authored and initially surrounded by controversy and claims of racist portrayals, the work has evolved to be recognised as a masterpiece sympathetic to its African American subjects. This production by Trevor Nunn is an adaptation for television based on his landmark 1986 Glyndebourne production starring Willard White and Cynthia Haymon. 

To book:  

Tuesday 19th October 2021 at 6:15pm. St. Johns Campus EE1061

Othello (c 1604) by William Shakespeare. Royal Shakespeare Company

Shakespeare’s tragedy of love, politics, jealousy and murder is unique amongst his plays for having a black protagonist, but for centuries it was assumed that the ‘noble Moor’  could be legitimately played by a blacked-up white actor. While well-known black actors have now stamped their authority on the role, there is still debate about whether the play is racist in its depiction of Othello’s downfall at the hands of the malevolent white villain Iago.   For his 2015 Royal Shakespeare Company production of the play, the British Pakistani director IqbalKhan cast the black British-Tanzanian actor Lucian Msamati  as Iago playing opposite the Ghanaian actor Hugh Quarshie.  This radical casting decision opened up the play to a completely different set of cultural perspectives. The production was filmed live in its Royal Shakespeare Theatre setting. 

To book:

Tuesday 26th October 2021 at 6:15pm. St. Johns Campus EE1061

Dance Theatre of Harlem (1989): Fall River Legend / Troy Game / The Beloved / John Henry

Choreography: Agnes de Mille / Robert North / Lester Horton / Arthur Mitchell

Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, the Dance Theatre of Harlem is an all black American ballet company that performs work by black choreographers and adaptations of classics ballets with all black casts. From humble beginnings in a garage in Harlem, the school rapidly recruited dancers and successfully challenged the idea that the black body was not suitable for classical ballet. Defining itself as political Dance Theatre of Harlem found a place in the American civil rights movement and became a major force in American dance in the USA and internationally. This programme represents some of the masterpieces of African American choreography and dance performance. 

To book: 

Friday 29th October 2021 at 6:15pm. St. Johns Campus EE1061

Small Island (2019) by Andrea Levy and Helen Edmundson. National Theatre

Small Island is based on the prize-winning 2004 novel of the same name by Andrea Levy who drew on the experiences of her own ‘Windrush Generation’ parents as they left Jamaica in 1948 to make a new life in England.  There are four main characters whose lives intertwine during and after the  Second World War. The play begins in Jamaica where Hortense dreams of becoming a teacher while Gilbert thinks his war service will enable him to qualify as a lawyer. Queenie escapes her Lincolnshire roots to go to London only to be disappointed in her husband Bernard. All in different ways have to face the harsh realities of a racist society in post-war England.  Directed by the National’s artistic director Rufus Norris,  the play was given a visually stunning National Theatre production with a cast of forty actors and filmed live during its 2019 sold-out run.

To book:  

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