Tar Baby - review
Vault Festival Theatre

Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 12:18 PM | Review by: Ronke Lawal |
Tar Baby, Vault Festival Theatre Tar Baby, Vault Festival Theatre

Tar Baby is a powerful and timely production and I commend Burch for bringing so much to life on stage. I only hope the audience listened, learnt and will act on what she shared with us during the course of those wonderful 90 minutes.

Tar Baby is a solo theatrical event that tackles the story of race and racism in The USA. Whilst it deals with the experiences of race in the US many of the issues are also relevant on a universal scale. Co-written with playwright Dan Kitrosser and performed by 2015 Funny Women Award-winner Desiree Burch, this interactive one woman performance piece uses history, autobiography, current events and devised theatre device to speak on the growing majority of minority experiences in America and beyond. Burch’s stage presence makes an immediate impact as she forewarns the audience of what to expect. This was not to be a comfortable performance, “Tar Baby”, though filled with comedic banter, had a hard hitting message that Burch expressed boldly and some might even say bravely.


The stage is set in carnival-style in which Burch acts as barker, inviting members of the audience to play the games and view the spectacles wrought by the unholy union of race and capitalism. We embark on moments of the ridiculously hilarious to the ridiculously painful in what can only be described as a carnival ride of creative realism. What I loved about Burch’s performance was the unfiltered approach to the issue of race, particularly poignant in a country like England in which even the use of the terms BAME, BME, “of colour” and even black are under constant scrutiny. If we can’t even decide which terms to use when tackling race goodness only knows how we can even begin to tackle racist constructs at all. But under those spotlights in that darkened vault I felt like I was watching a woman who could speak for all of us, by us I don’t mean only black women, I mean everyone, the entire intersection of humanity that must face up to what race is.


We embark on moments of the ridiculously hilarious to the ridiculously painful in what can only be described as a carnival ride of creative realism

The performance itself centres around the Br’er Rabbit folktale of the same name, which was both appropriated by American culture to reinforce racial stereotypes and used as a term to describe the difficulties in discussing and engaging racism itself. The layered meaning of this folktale combined with Burch’s dauntless style served to highlight the essence of the issues at stake if we do not speak about legacies of racism in society. Tar Baby reveals the impact of the inability to grieve, to mourn, to acknowledge the history of slavery, colonialism and segregation which continues to manifest in destructive forms, never truly allowing humanity to move forward in the unity which so many social heroes had dreamed.


Using accounts of her encounters with racism in academia, the entertainment industry and personal relationships, Burch examines how prejudice mutilates the soul and limits personal and social evolution. I enjoyed the interspersion of history with pop culture as well as the touching anecdotal moments which brought the performance to life. Tar Baby is a powerful and timely production and I commend Burch for bringing so much to life on stage. I only hope the audience listened, learnt and will act on what she shared with us during the course of those wonderful 90 minutes.



Info: Tar Baby was at the Vault Festival Theatre in London from 10-14 February 2016 More | Tar Baby was also at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 – see listing




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