The Watford African Caribbean Association and Watford Palace Theatre marked the bicentenary with a special performance created by the Watford African Caribbean Association writers' group in collaboration with writer Michael Bhim and director Gbolahan Obisesan. The three month research project led to the production of prose, drama and monologues covering all aspects of the slave trade.
Bristol was major trading port for the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century. The city of Bristol marked the bicentenary of the Abolition Act with more than 100 events across the city - exhibitions, plays, debates, talks, concerts - under the umbrella organisation Abolition 200. In January 2007, city leaders signed a declaration of regret for the city's role in the trade. Over the weekend of 24-25 March, bells rang out across the city and a Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation was held at Bristol Cathedral, organised by a partnership of the Cathedral and the Council of Black Churches. 2007 was themed as the Year of Black Achievement, aiming to bring better provision of black heritage resources to schools in Bristol, with a particular focus on black attainment. Over 30 creative community projects were funded by Abolition 200 - including art installations, educational projects and community theatre - to reflect the themes of education, commemoration and legacy.
Featured here are some of the events from Abolition 200.
In conjunction with York Theatre Royal, Riding Lights Theatre Company produced a new play written by Murray Watts, directed by Paul Burbridge, with original music by Nigerian musician Ben Okafor. African Snow: Secrets of the trade was originally commissioned by the Church Mission Society, an organisation founded in 1799 by representatives of the abolition movement, including William Wilberforce. The play sought to explore the ideas associated with antislavery and how they can be put to use in the modern day campaign for the end of slavery. Opening at York, the play went on to have a West End Transfer followed by a national tour. The main characters are John Newton, the converted slave-trader who later wrote 'Amazing Grace', and the former slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. The play saw them confronting each other’s differing perspectives, creating a dialogue in which the audience could witness alternative views towards slavery. A 'snow' was a class of ship, commonly used for the transportation of slaves. 'The African' was the first slave ship on which John Newton sailed.
Am I Not a Man and a Brother? was a piece of documentary theatre devised by Reveal Theatre Company in partnership with North Staffordshire Racial Equality Council. It used stories and testimony from the African Caribbean community in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, interwoven with historical and contemporary slave stories. The play was produced by Robert Marsden and Julia Barton. The production was launched at the Stoke-on-Trent Racial Equality Council - where it was performed to the local people who had contributed their stories and was accompanied by a performance by a local Black choir - and then toured to venues in Bristol, London and Liverpool.
The Anti-Slavery Arch in Stroud is Britain's oldest anti-slavery memorial. It was built by Henry Wyatt in 1834 to celebrate the passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833. A local businessman and supporter of the Stroud Anti-Slavery Society, Wyatt built the arch as an entrance to the carriage drive of his private estate. Established in 2000, the 'Anti-Slavery Arch Group' raised funds to address the preservation needs of the arch. This community project carried out major stone repairs, added a bronze plaque, produced a leaflet and website, and wrote and performed a play with students from Archway School (built on the site of Wyatt's mansion in the 1960s). In 2007, the monument was upgraded from a Grade II listing to Grade II*.
A performance by the London Shakespeare Workout based on George MacDonald Fraser's novel 'Black Ajax'. The play, set in Regency England, tells the historical tale of two enslaved men through dialogue, song and verse. One slave is from America, another is from Africa. The former, Tom Molineaux, becomes the first Black Prize Fighter in Britain. Black Atlas featured an original score by Tim Williams. The play opened in Cambridge and toured to 40 different venues around the UK.
Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame is an acclaimed stage musical which highlights the contributions and achievements made by black men and women in the world of sports, science and entertainment. First launched as a community project in 1987 at the Shaw Theatre in Camden, the production was created by Flip Fraser in collaboration with JD Douglas and Khareem Jamal. The show was the first all-black cast production to play in the West End. It returned in 2007 with a new line-up of characters, songs and dances, and recreated significant moments in black history including Kings and Queens of Africa, Freedom Fighters, Great Entertainers as well as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Nelson Mandela. The musical toured London, Croydon, Nottingham, Oxford and Bristol in 2007.
A programme of events and activities for Black History Month 2007 from Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre had a particular focus on the bicentenary. The programme included theatre, youth projects and family days. Calypso Fuh So performed special Calypsos to mark the bicentenary, and YAA/Carnival Village organised a commemorative walk to remember ancestors who died in slavery, and the Black presence in Britain. Ritual Theatre Arts created a film celebrating thirty years of African dance in Britain and International Word Power featured performances of poetry, storytelling and song.
Leicester's Black History Season in October-November 2007 marked the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Its aim was to redress the balance from a 'Eurocentric point of view' of abolition, and focus on the Afrikan perspective with the theme of 'Souls of Black Folk'. Musical performances included gospel, Motown, reggae and jazz. Other events in venues across Leicester and Loughborough included traditional South African dance, contemporary dance, performance poetry, comedy, multimedia performances, storytelling, theatre and an exhibition, 'Africa's Gift', focusing on the economic and cultural contributions of the slaves and their descendants.
Black Man Don't Float? is a play developed by Sameboat Project, a not-for-profit organisation working in collaboration with the Pierian Centre Bristol, Gecko Theatre Ipswich, and the Arrow Project at University College Plymouth. Set in the ocean off West Africa, a white yachtsman collides with an African economic migrant who is trying to reach the Canaries in a home-made vessel. They have to co-operate to survive, but their differences lead to confusion. Performed by West African performer Ayodele Scott and UK-based writer and performer Martin Hubbard, Black Man Don't Float? was shown in the UK and then travelled to Sierra Leone. The show was accompanied by a workshop entitled Fair Share, exploring issues around the fair sharing of resources, and the challenges facing developed and developing nations in their negotiations about aid, trade and the exploitation of natural resources.
A play performed by Second Step Caribbean Women’s Group Agewell at The Library Theatre in Sheffield in October 2007. The play was funded by South Yorkshire Community Foundation.
Breaking Chains - Sheffield Civil Rights was a project by Sheffield Galleries and Museum Trust to look at the slave trade and to celebrate Sheffield’s heritage by exploring the role local campaigners played in securing workers' rights. The resources targeted Key Stage 2 pupils. There was a particular focus on the visit to Sheffield by the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in 1790. Actor Joe Williams played Equiano in a dramatisation still available to view on the teaching resource. Featured here are some of the downloads available.
A play written and directed by Suzanne Hawkes, 'Breaking the Chain' is a dramatic account of Thomas Clarkson's role in the movement to abolish the slave trade. The abolitionists Olaudah Equiano, Granville Sharp and Joseph and Katherine Plymley are also portrayed in the production. Equiano's accounts of the slave trade from his 'Interesting Narrative' feature as dramatic imagery, and the play also examines infamous events that aided the abolitionist cause, such as the uproar surrounding the case of the slave ship 'Zong' and the decision by its Captain to throw overboard 133 enslaved Africans. In 2007, 'Breaking the Chain' was performed at various venues in Suffolk.
2007 saw a number of different projects taking place at Harewood House in West Yorkshire, home of the Lascelles family. The bicentenary was used as an opportunity to explore the family connections with the transatlantic slave trade and the sugar plantations of the West Indies.
To spotlight Harewood House's historic links with the Caribbean and carnival, in September 2007 a production of Carnival Messiah was held in a Big Top in the grounds. Carnival Messiah is a reinvention of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah as carnival theatre and heritage experience. The West Indian celebration features dancers, singers, masqueraders, musicians and actors. Stories from the Caribbean folk tradition, medieval mystery plays and African ritual combine with contemporary popular music and dance styles, including gospel, calypso, reggae, jazz, hop hop, bhangra and steel band. Geraldine Connor was Creator and Artistic Director and David Lascelles of Harewood House was Executive Producer. A community education and outreach programme ran alongside the project.
Word of Mouth Media Production, based in Southwark, staged a production of Celia at New Players Theatre in London. The play was directed by Malcolm Frederick and written by Richard Nyeila, inspired by Melton A. McLaurin's biography 'Celia A Slave'. Based in the mid-19th century, the story revolves around Celia, an enslaved woman on trial for murdering her abusive owner.
The Diverse Stories project began in 2007 with participants from Malcolm X Elders, an Afro Caribbean elders and community group in Bristol, taking part in a creative writing project to mark the bicentenary. This was jointly supported by Show of Strength Theatre Company, Our Stories Make Waves and English Heritage. Participants visited the ruined Temple Church in Bristol and explored its links with the slave trade and abolition movement. Their responses included a range of dramatic monologues covering themes such as slavery, racism, trade, childhood memories of Jamaica and migration from the Caribbean. These were read at a performance by a professional actor. In 2008 the project was given a permanent record by a selection of the stories being recorded on audio CD.
Dreams of an African Child is a one act play about the 21st century sale of children in the River Volta region of Ghana. It was written by Robin Graham, produced by The Ugly Tree and Greenhouse Northwest Theatre Company, and directed by Toria Banks. The drama centres on the reactions of a rural African family when their teenage son, missing presumed dead, returns home to his family after being sold eight years before. The play was first performed in Accra in 2004, and then in 2008 toured schools and community venues in the North of England and Wales. Workshops were held to discuss the issues of child trafficking raised by the play.
Emancipation of the Dispossessed was a local community project exploring the local history of Deptford and the surrounding areas and the connections with the transatlantic slave trade. Community groups and students from Lewisham College worked with theatre educators to research and develop 'Blood Sugar', a promenade performance through the Queen's House, Greenwich. The play, written and directed by John Turner, tells the story of slavery and abolition from a local angle, and the script was built around first-hand and eyewitness accounts, campaign pamphlets and reports to parliament. The project also produced learning resources aimed at Key Stage 3 History and Citizenship.
A guided walk explored Deptford’s links to the history of the transatlantic slave trade, uncovering stories of some of the local people who played an important role in the beginnings of the slave trade or the campaign for its abolition. London was an important slave trading port before Bristol and Liverpool dominated the trade. The trade and British colonies were protected by the Royal Navy, whose ships were built and prepared for voyages at the Royal Dockyards at Deptford.
The Engage 2007 Festival of Culture celebrated cultural freedoms in South Gloucestershire. Led by South Gloucestershire Council, and in partnership with local volunteer groups, schools and community groups, the festival took place on 17 November 2007. It featured 40 live performances of drama, dance and music from India, China, Africa, South America and Europe, a world food zone, family workshops, youth and environmental activities and 60 interactive and information stalls. The Impact exhibition was produced as part of Engage 2007, exploring the part that people living in South Gloucestershire played slavery and abolition.
On Sunday 25 March 2007, a ceremony was held on Cathedral Green in Exeter to mark the bicentenary. Organised by Exeter City Council, the ceremony was attended by members of the public and individuals representing local organisations. Historian Lucy MacKeith examined the links between Devon, the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. Extracts were read from the Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, and names read aloud of some of the Africans who came to Devon because of the county's connection to the slave trade.
The play 'Albert and the Story of Equiano' was performed at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in October 2007. It told the story of Olaudah Equiano, a leading African figure in the British abolition movement in the 18th century.