Walking tour returns to where it all started
It has been a long and winding road travelled by Black Men Walking.
The theatre piece about a monthly black men's walking group in the Peak District is now on its second UK tour which next week reaches Sheffield where the story began.
The play which explores aspects of the Black British identity and the history of Black Britons in the UK and blends storytelling with live music was inspired by the Sheffield Black Men’s Walking Group which was set up to help improve the health and well being of the BME community.
Black Men Walking was developed by Sheffield’s Eclipse Theatre and its pioneering Revolution Mix – delivering the largest ever number of new Black British Stories in regional theatres across the UK - in collaboration with rapper and beatboxer Testament.
The cast joined the group on one of their rambles in the Peak District. “It was lovely and we had read the play beforehand so we were able to take in some of the references and also the conversations that come up during the walk about the black experience walking and in general,” says Dorcas Sebuyange, one of two originals from the cast of four taking part in the second tour.
Her character, Ayeesha, is the outsider who disrupts the routine of the three older men on their regular walk.
“Ayeesha’s reaction to the Black people walking experience is probably similar to that of my demographic,” she says. “The idea of walking in the countryside – I would just rather stay in the city. “I think Ayeesha’s reaction gets them to express a political statement about black men walking. She doesn’t really understand the education side, how one could get educated by walking. It’s political and I think what she does is take the audience on that journey.”
Audience responses have varied from place to place, she notes “Some of the references in the play London audiences didn’t quite get in contrast to Glasgow and some of the things they pick up are completely different. Sheffield was very much on it because a lot of the rapping speaks to the place it is set and they really enjoyed that.”
Dorcas describes herself as an actor, poet, musician and movement artist and no stranger to rap. “As a musician it was pretty easy for me to understand the character of Ayeesha (who is a rapper) but learning the rhythms of rap is always going to be harder when it is not from your own head. I spent some time with Testament and Dawn (Walton, the director) working on the flow of it.”
Dorcas had to suppress her natural Liverpool accent. “The heart of the play is Yorkshire so I don’t think it would work if she spoke Scouse,” she says. “Even if we are both northerners the black experience is different from one place to the other. As well as Ayeesha you see me as a historical character who is maybe in the same bloodline.”
She says that at school she used to put on a Yorkshire accent for a laugh and so she thought it would be easy. “I didn’t realise my own accent was coming in because I was so confident and having too much fun,” she admits. “This time round I am being more vigilant in making sure it is as accurate as possible. I have realised that there are so many different accents in Yorkshire which is such a huge place so there is a difference between South and West. And then there are the generations so it is easy to get confused.”
Black Men Walking is in the Crucible Studio from Monday to Saturday, October 14-19.