Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Monday 22nd January, 2018
Inspired by a real walking group whose members organise hikes in the Peak District, Black Men Walking is the tale of a day out in the countryside that ends up delivering far more than the participants bargained for.
Thomas, Matthew and Richard meet up once a month in the foothills of the Peak District to take on a long, rejuvenating walk – a chance for them all to leave behind the stresses and strains of ordinary city life, a chance to let nature inspire and mould them.
Their big walking rucksacks stuffed with drinks, snacks and spare jumpers are not the only baggage they are carrying. Each man has weighty issues that he’s trying to leave behind, even if just for one day: the nagging wife who won’t stop sending texts; and even the funeral arrangements for an estranged father.
The three intrepid walkers quickly become self-conscious about being the only black people in the Peaks – all brought about initially by the unwritten golden rule of the hills which dictates that you always say a polite hello to passing strangers. As the walkers make their gruelling ascent, their conversations explore the role of black men in society and culture, both past and present, and what it means to each of them individually.
The path that Black Men Walking takes as the plot unfolds is as meandering and unpredictable as any real walk in the Peak District. The weather suddenly turns and becomes dangerous, they pick up an enigmatic stranger on one of the peaks who accompanies them on the way down, then they end up hopelessly lost before one of them comes face to face with mortal danger.
Woven in to this unfolding plot are several dream-like segments, almost acting as interludes that explore various issues in more detail. Did a black Roman emperor really walk along the path that they’re on in the second century A.D? Is one of the walkers really losing his mind, is he seeing people and things that aren’t really there?
The concluding message from Black Men Walking seems to be one of not holding preconceptions: if you’re surprised to learn that black men enjoy a day out walking in the countryside then you’re likely to be just as surprised to learn that black men have in fact been walking the hills of Britain for hundreds of years.
|Visual pleasure||Very good use of a partially opaque screen behind which several surreal scenes unfolded. The set didn’t really conjure up the rugged appeal of the Peak District, which led to some of the “walking” scenes looking almost comical.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Excellent use of sound effects to punctuate the key moments. The cast also delivered several instances of rhythmic chanting and singing, which helped create a sobering mood that reflected the plot well.||4|
|Architecture & Theme||Doesn’t feel right – seems to be caught between being a thriller about a hike in the hills gone wrong and a more abstract piece of theatrical art exploring racism and identity. Both aspects were good individually but they don’t merge together very neatly.||2|
|Artistic delivery||Excellent performances from all four cast members, each doing a very good job of constructing appealing characters.||4|
|Overall impact||This play is technically sound and very well presented. Though it is entertaining it didn’t really spark any particularly poignant thoughts in my head about any of the issues that were covered, or present any new angles on them.||2|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|