Walking in the footsteps of 2,000 years of history

A rambling group set up to help improve the health and well being of Sheffield's BME community has inspired a play which comes to the Crucible Studio next week.

Thursday, 5th April 2018, 15:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th April 2018, 15:16 pm
A scene from Black Men Walking by Testament @ Royal Exchange Manchester. Directed by Dawn Walton. (Opening 18-01-18) ©Tristram Kenton 01-18 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Black Men Walking, produced by Sheffield’s Eclipse Theatre, features a cast of four in a blend of storytelling wand live music.

After joining one of the monthly walks out into the Peak District Eclipse artist director Dawn Walton felt the experience suggested the idea of following in the footsteps of those who had gone before.

A group of Sheffield men who set up a walking group called Black Men Walking. Their story is going to be turned into the play. 2nd December 2017. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

She commissioned rapper and beatboxer Testament to incorporate the concept into a piece of drama. Although best known as a DJ, this is his third theatre project after Blake Remixed and Woke.

Testament went out with the Black Men Walking group founded by Sheffield environmentalist Maxwell Ayamba. “I really enjoyed it, the chance to talk to these really smart, progressive, intelligent, compassionate men – and women. it was a very pleasant view of the world,.”

The next step was to research Black British history over the past 2000 years. “I made the decision to keep it in Yorkshire and to think in whose footsteps these men were walking and the people who could have been walking there over the years.”

And so we get the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus who was either black or mixed race and ruled three continents from Yorkshire or John Blanke, a trumpeter in the court of King Henry VIII.

Testament, writer of Black Men Walking

“When Dawn approached me I thought what an opportunity but at the same time there was an actual duty to repay her confidence in me. This has come out of Eclipse Theatre’s Revolution Mix project (spearheading the delivery of new Black British productions in regional theatres) and I’m proud that this is their very first play.

“She and dramaturg Ola Animashawun have all really helped me on my journey.

“It’s the first play that I’m not in and that’s a different discipline . I am writing for a cast of actors as opposed to myself. You have a kind of shorthand and know the subtleties.

“Dawn encouraged me to explore the characters. My mum is Ghanaian and my father a white Englishman and I had to think how I could put myself into a 60-year-old Jamaican heritage man.”

A group of Sheffield men who set up a walking group called Black Men Walking. Their story is going to be turned into the play. 2nd December 2017. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

‘The whole story is told using music and spoken word and as the play goes on, I’ve used that to start to merge the historical and present day elements. So we have a sort of crossover between these liminal spaces with ethereal and trance-like language of the ancestors.

“I come from a background in hip hop and rap and beatboxing so there are elements of that but I decided all the music should be generated by the human body so there are vocal harmonies and percussion like clapping.

“There are three men have got their own questions that they’re carrying with them, and as they embark on this walk, we get to see them work through some of their issues. All of them live in Sheffield as does the fourth character played by Dorcas Sebuyange and without giving away spoilers disrupts things. She will talk about City Road and Pitsmoor and other Sheffield references.”

Testament, aka Andy Brooks, lives near Huddersfield but knows Sheffield well. I used to be resident at The Tuesday Club in Sheffield for five or six years and I am signed to Sheffield scratch DJ Andy H’s label.

Testament, writer of Black Men Walking

“I was born in London, we lived in Manchester and Zimbabwe and then I moved to Leeds in 1997. I’m an adopted Yorkshireman, I married a Yorkshirewoman and have three lovely Yorkshire kids.”

Black Men Walking is at the Studio from Monday to Saturday/