Show: Paul Robeson’s Love Song. An Audio Play
Event: Liverpool Theatre Festival Of New Works
Location: Bombed Out Church, Liverpool
Date: Thursday July 15 2021
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Age Rating: 12+
Performers: Tayo Aluko, Lisa Merrill, Dennis Nelson, Ananda Bena-Weber, Bob Weick, Nils Swanson, Michael Bias, Leslie McCurdy, Mark Atkinson, Darryl Van Leer, Michelle Pauls & David Rovics
Production Company: Tayo Aluko & Friends
Writer: Tayo Aluko
Director: Olusola Oyeleye
This is our theatre review for Paul Robeson’s Love Song. An Audio Play at Liverpool‘s Bombed Out Church. Now, this is the sixth show of Liverpool Theatre Festival Of New Works 2021. So, let’s take a look at Paul Robeson’s Love Song. An Audio Play!
Paul Robeson’s Love Song. An Audio Play
Unlike any of the other shows at the festival, this show comes as an audio experience. By that, I mean that writer and star Tayo Aluko presents photographs over the audio recording of this performance. That’s because it was recorded during lockdown, rather than on a traditional stage. And so Tayo would turn a negative into a positive by recording readings from various actors and actresses via Zoom. The end result is a show that would become available as an online stream (the link for this is below). But the format of the festival would allow Tayo to sit and watch the performance with the audience. And also alongside Lisa Merrill, a Canadian working as a university professor in New York. She stars in this performance, and she would be on hand specifically for this very showing.
So, the tale concerns Paul Robeson, a famous American singer in the 1940s. Things are going well for Paul, both on a professional and personal front. That is until his European tour sees him make a speech in Paris, condemning the US government for not doing enough to prevent white supremacist movements against black Americans, along with the growing mistrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. But the version of his speech that would reach Americans would imply him being pro-Communist and anti-American. And since this was pre-internet, there was no evidence for Robeson to set the record straight. Worse was to come via the Peekskill riots arranged by a mob who were anti-black, anti-Jew and anti-Communism.
Meanwhile, we learn about a family living in modern America. In August 2020, amidst the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin after the shooting of Jacob Blake, we hear about a mysterious record. The record is an original copy of Paul Robeson’s track Love Song. But how would it get here, and what is the connection between the song and Robeson’s private life? We find out by virtue of what is a fascinating tale that blends fact with fiction. Furthermore, Tayo Aluko and Lisa Merrill would have a post-show Q&A to discuss Robeson’s legacy in further detail.
The general story of Paul Robeson, as Tayo acknowledges, should receive far more attention than it actually gets. Aluko would note how surprisingly few people are aware not only of his struggles but also of their significance. And this is especially true when considering the racial tensions in the United States in recent years. But as Tayo mentions, the problem would never completely disappear; it would simply reignite during Donald Trump’s stint as US President.
Though Joe Biden now occupies the White House, racism remains a major issue for the country. And not just in the US, as this week’s developments underline the clear racism that lies within the United Kingdom. Additionally, not unlike Robeson in 1949, many would argue the British government is doing very little to quell the tension. To me, this famous phrase comes to mind: “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And that seems apropos when considering the subject matter of this show and the current state of the world.
As for the story as a whole, I would find it to be highly intriguing and very entertaining, partly due to its tone. Aluko as Robeson doesn’t shout or scream; he handles his situations in a calm yet firm manner. Oh, and he’s a great singer too! Furthermore, this show demonstrates how, 72 years on, while the world would change in many ways, some common issues still remain.
I also like the manner in which Tayo links Robeson’s genuine crisis with a believable side-story about one particular track. It speaks to the creative mind of Aluko, and it helps to elevate the show that much more. Speaking of which, for Tayo to achieve an online show of this standard during lockdown is, to me, a phenomenal achievement. And the timing is also important due to him producing his stream with America at the eye of a racism storm once more.
Because this show is available online, you can watch this right now, and I strongly suggest that you do so. Because Paul Robeson’s Love Song. An Audio Play is thoroughly compelling and highly educational. Even if it were to focus solely on the personal meaning behind the song, I would still endorse this tale. But when adding the story of racial tension that remains as relevant today as ever, this becomes an incredible piece of work. Add to that the bonus Q&A, and this becomes my highlight of the Liverpool Theatre Festival thus far.
Target Audience: 12+
Content: Infrequent Discriminatory Language, Infrequent Sex References
Overall Rating: 10/10 – Perfect
Paul Robeson’s Love Song. An Audio Play Further Links
Liverpool Theatre Festival Of New Works 2021 continues at the Bombed Out Church until Sunday July 18 2021. So, to purchase tickets, please click here.
To watch the online stream of this show in full, please click here.
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