Review by Flossie Waite
A Theatre Centre Production
Touring nationally September – December 2015
For ages 13+
Theatre Centre has a dream: to encourage youth activism through the arts. The company’s bid to empower the young leaders of tomorrow begins with showing them the young leaders of the past. Rise Up is an original play about the Freedom Riders, students who travelled by Greyhound Bus into America’s Deep South to peacefully protest racial segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. It’s perhaps not fashionable to have such clear aims for children’s theatre – last year Purni Morell, Artistic Director of Unicorn Theatre, captured the current mood with an impassioned speech about ‘art for art’s sake’. Despite this, Rise Up is timely: as the arts finds its feet under the funding cuts and current political climate, Theatre Centre have chosen a compassionate and uncompromising way forward.
There is something of Shakespeare’s mechanicals about the four-piece cast (Emma Dennis-Edwards, Sam Kacher, Kimisha Lewis, Edward Nkom), who squabble and bicker throughout. The fights are mostly provoked by Kacher, his unprofessional (but fiercely enthusiastic) conduct includes turning up late, forgetting his lines, and needing constant reminders of what exactly is going on. Not only as comic as the characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this element also cleverly sets the historical scene for the young audience. Speaking of the cast, is it significant that the black and white actors each perform characters of both races? Playing with colour in this unremarked upon way adds another thought-provoking dimension to the production.
Without much by way of set or props, Rise Up is illustrated with words. The Freedom Riders encountered unimaginable violence – from the KKK, the police, ordinary people – but the production doesn’t attempt to portray it. In a world where young people are exposed to scenes of violence often, the play has a greater impact by shunning gratuity. The clashes are mostly described through reminiscence; by focusing on the people rather than the acts, bravery carries a greater weight than brutality. Lisa Evans’ script slips into poetry, carrying a rhythm that hums like the engine of a bus.
This is the first production of Theatre Centre’s new vision, but it heralds an exciting future: upcoming projects include a play from poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz about the human rights of girls and young women. Far from being didactic, the closest Rise Up gets to a ‘lesson’ is this: “This is your business, this living business”.
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