Bandanas, bass, beautiful shades of melanin; Run It Back pulls no punches. From the outset, it wants you to feel as if you’re part of the party, and leave you wanting one, too. It possesses the kind of pulse quickening moments you don’t want to miss, movement and choreography you can’t quite fathom, and energy you wish you could imitate.
Talawa’s first mid-scale production at Fairfield Halls since they moved there in 2019, is as uplifting and impactful a piece of theatre that I haven’t seen in some time, and by making efforts to immerse (and maybe even educate) the audience, it fuses a heady mix of entertainment with some thought-provoking and pertinent contextual arguments.
Run It Back finds new and creative ways to spread messages of female empowerment, body positivity, tolerance and unity.
Any show that hands its audience bandanas and paper plates on entry is trying something a little different, and the opening moments of Run It Back fully justify the vibrant cocktail of music, dance and stage design. Whilst the design is simple; scaffolding, speakers, decks, fairy lights, it is no less effective, although I did think that were it staged in a more non-traditional, immersive space akin to an underground rave, the show would no doubt be enhanced.
As DJ Psykhomantus cuts up grime, soca, jungle, afrobeats and bashment, I noticed that some members of the audience weren’t familiar with the selections, which had swathes of the crowd whooping and whipping their bandanas aloft. However, I doubt this diminished their enjoyment, and I definitely welcomed the deep cuts.
Originally conceived in 2018, time hasn’t diminished its impact, and how could it, when the UK charts are regularly topped by Black British artists, and vast swathes of commercial pop music use or ‘borrow’ the sounds and syntax of music of Black origin. However, no one needs reminding of what has happened in the intervening years, and Run It Back has plenty of visual and vocal nods to issues faced not only by the Black community here in the UK, but the wider African diaspora, and further afield.
The strongest arguments (and some of the best laughs) focus on gender roles, masculinity and sexuality. Misogyny and homophobic lyrics are nothing new in some quarters of clubbing culture and the music industry, but Run It Back finds new and creative ways to spread messages of female empowerment, body positivity, tolerance and unity.
Run It Back has plenty of visual and vocal nods to issues faced not only by the Black community here in the UK, but the wider African diaspora, and further afield.
Whilst a greater sense of story throughout, and perhaps even some more overriding jeopardy might have created a deeper connection to larger themes, Coral Messam’s direction, and the work of Gail Babb and Talawa Young People’s Theatre deserve a huge amount of credit for creating a play that feels like following a carnival float.
Furthermore having the guts to end with the N-word emblazoned on jackets in glittered letters is bold, and left me reconciling with the fact that for us, a sense of danger and unease can suddenly interrupt our freedom, and the very same music that give us the means to succeed, can also be used as a stick to beat us with.