but i cd only whisper, The Arcola Theatre

Published: Sunday, November 18, 2012 1:45 PM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
but i cd only whisper cr Richard Davenport but i cd only whisper | © Richard Davenport

Kristiana Colón’s new play but i cd only whisper brings the atrocities of war and the effects of disenfranchisement to the forefront of British fringe theatre. In the downtown Chicago of 1970, Beau Willie Brown is being interviewed by a psychiatrist who will decide whether or not he is fit to stand trial. With the crime as yet unnamed past events from this Vietnam war veteran’s life are re-enacted and accounts are given by his friends, lovers and employers as the jigsaw of his life is pieced together. What has led to this moment in this interview room with this trial looming? And with the accused so traumatised by a war he never understood, who is truly to blame for his crime?


Nadia Latif’s direction is skilled and rhythmic; the different characters gliding in and out of the story, their feet treading the steps to dance routines of the time.

Adetomiwa Edun is masterful as the returned soldier Beau plagued by flashbacks of his time at the front. His mood is frenetic, changing from nonchalant to enraged to petrified. The changeability of his tone powerfully demonstrates the fragile state of his mind. Arcola’s Studio 2 is the ideal setting for this gritty psychological drama with the limited space and dark walls creating a somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere. The set itself consists of a central raised platform with two chairs and a metal blind backdrop creating the police interview room outside of which all other scenes take place. Scenes such as Beau’s girlfriend Crystal describing the day they first met, or his best friend Marvin saying it could have happened to any of the boys who grew up in their neighbourhood.


The use of different media is hugely effective in bringing the era to life; projected footage of Coca Cola adverts and Malcolm X speeches flicker behind the actors as the musical hits of the decade play softly.

The use of different media is hugely effective in bringing the era to life; projected footage of Coca Cola adverts and Malcolm X speeches flicker behind the actors as the musical hits of the decade play softly. The complete saturation of the senses is at times confusing but mainly engrossing and highlights the intensity of the subject matter. Nadia Latif’s direction is skilled and rhythmic; the different characters gliding in and out of the story, their feet treading the steps to dance routines of the time. The extensive development of each character is remarkable, particularly in the case of the psychiatrist played by Cornell S John. Educated but subservient, part of the black community but dependent upon the white his tight-lipped response to his employer’s instructions speaks volumes.

Inspired by a character from a Ntozake Shange play, Colón has created a complex and candid microcosm of 1970s America. Issues of gender, race, mental illness, patriotism and social hierarchy are all integral parts of Beau’s story. The writing is beautiful with metaphor laded monologues and jive style dialogue, occasionally extended just past the moment of ultimate poignancy. This is a stirring and commanding production, which explores the battle, fought once the war has ended.




Related Links

but i cd only whisper is at the Arcola Theatre until December 1, 2012
Nadia Latif, but i cd only whisper interview with Afridiziak Theatre News


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