Messiah by Jesse Briton & Paula B Stanic – review

Stratford Circus Arts Centre
Review by: Christina McDougall
Published: Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 3:34am
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Set in America during the Civil Rights movement, we meet an inspirational and passionate young man called Fred Hampton (Shaq B. Grant).  From feeding thousands of under privileged starving school children to negotiating non-violence pacts between street gangs, at only 21-years-old he already is a local hero. Fred fights to give the voiceless a voice whilst campaigning for black people’s rights.

The play starts the moment you enter the theatre. Fred, his girlfriend Deborah (Angelina Chudi) and his friend William (Gerel Falconer) greet audience members with handshakes whilst they try to find their perfect seat. The stage is set in the middle with the audience watching on both sides, allowing the actors to interact with everyone. The stage is simple, with minimal props and no fancy lighting however the acting is more than enough to tell this impactful story.

Messiah is a thought provoking and impactful play

Messiah focuses on the powerful movement of the Black Panthers. Growing up in school I was never taught about the Black Panthers, however at home I learnt plenty. The Black Panthers were founded by college students Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California, in October 1966. They formed the party to address the police violence that was endured by black people, by empowering black people with knowledge and self-defence on how to protect themselves. They also wanted to address the mistreatment of black people in their daily lives and become a voice for those who were no longer being heard. To ensure they fulfilled their goal, the founders created a ten-point programme that highlighted their blueprint for change.

Far from being an anti-white, violent cult, the Black Panthers were courageous and passionate about justice for people of all ethnicities. Unfortunately, the press poisoned the news with negativity and lies regarding the Black Panthers, causing ammunition to the police to try and destroy them.

As a black woman, I am very passionate about black rights. We should never have to be in a position where the percentage of melanin in our skin dictates how we are treated. For too long we have been disrespected, threatened and murdered without a real reason. The play exposes this reality by allowing us to witness police brutality in the fullest as we watch Fred and his pregnant girlfriend being terrorised in their own home by the police.

Like any young couple who are blissfully in love, Fred and Deborah are full of hope and admire one another. Deborah is pregnant with their first child and Fred is ecstatic about becoming a father. Their chemistry is truly beautiful and extremely heart-warming to watch. As the play unfolds, we watch everything change in a split second, when an evil police officer wants to poison their family unit like a deadly snake.

We watch every character tell their side of the story leading up to a tragic event between Fred, Deborah, William and a Chicago Police Sergeant (Lewis Hart).  Writer Paula B. Stanic clearly wants the audience to fully understand what has happened between these characters. Paula uses the past, present and future to give us a 3D understanding of what happened in Fred’s flat between the police and his family.

I don’t want to give the storyline away but what I can say is that the play left me in deep thought. Although this is a play based on black life in the 60’s, the audience members sitting opposite me were predominantly all white with stiffened faces. I appreciate the truth is never an easy watch for many, but until things change, I believe it’s a necessary watch for everyone.

It just shows that when you have a good script and exceptional acting that a fancy set design is not necessary.

Although I found some of the flashbacks slightly confusing and a few scenes a little unnecessary, I have to say the acting was fabulous. All the characters were flawless and well developed. Each actor told their story with their heart and I trusted their every word. It just shows that when you have a good script and exceptional acting that a fancy set design is not necessary.

Messiah is a thought-provoking and impactful play that allows us to see a crime scene from both the victims and the perpetrator’s view. Although it looks simple, I promise you this play is far from simple and would recommend you watch it while you can.

NEED TO KNOW: Messiah was at Stratford Circus Arts Centre from 27 -30 Nov 2019 and now is on tour until 11 Jan 2020 | See tour dates