Theatre Review: salt., Royal Court ‘Sublime and Affecting’

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salt. is mesmeric. An extraordinary and affecting blend of performance art, spoken word, autobiography and theatre that has, at its heart, a powerful examination of the experience of the African diaspora, the ugly legacy of colonialism and imperialism, Black British identity, and a search for home – whatever and wherever that may be.

Writer Selina Thompson anchors this monologue in a journey she genuinely took from her home in Birmingham to Europe, on to an unwelcoming cargo ship that took her from the European mainland to the coast of Ghana – sailing the very same waters African men and women were forced to endure when they were taken from their homes and forced into slavery abroad – before she followed their path on to Jamaica.

A rollercoaster of an experience for Selina – one of profound revelation and immense anguish – but one she communicates through the most beautiful of words. It is a profound talent she has to capture and communicate. At times I felt as if I was sinking to the bottom of the ocean with her, such was the weight of her words pushing down on to my chest.

At other times I could sense the walls between this world and the next dissolving as Selina raised up the pain of those who’d suffered so much – lost voices finally being heard.

Yet carved deep into this history and emotion is Selina’s emphatic takedown of the poisonous hierarchies created, established – institutionalised – by capitalism, imperialism and colonialism.

Selina does not perform this monologue at the Court; that responsibility falls to Rochelle Rose whose performance is sublime. It is one that mixes grace and grief effortlessly. One moment Rochelle’s face is raised to the heavens, eyes closed, bathed in a soft golden light as she momentarily feels the connection she is seeking; the next, she is taking a literal sledgehammer to rocks of pink salt that litter the stage floor – each strike of the salt crystals another racist blow to the Black communities. It’s brilliant, it’s brutal and it is highly effective.

It is a privilege to witness such important themes presented with such originality. Yes, this piece is a righteous challenge to the lack of diversity on our stages, but its verve and its form is something to behold too. Director Dawn Walton and Selina have collaborated with immense success. salt. is both challenging and beautiful. There is so much here for both theatre audiences and creators to learn from.

 

Royal Court, London, to Saturday, 1 June 2019.
Tickets from £12.

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