Blaccine: First Dose – Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Stockroom

Produced by Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Stockroom in Association with Naked Productions

Written by Maheni Arthur, Tonderai Munyevu and Isaac Tomiczek

Co-Directed by Tonderai Munyevu and Debbie Hannan

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Official medical warnings of rising infections, re-ignited cautions to wear masks and the continuing financial damages heaped onto the public from blind-eyed government cronyism; all feels a bit 2020 doesn’t it? But where these stories feel familiar, how many of the non-white experiences and opinions have we shared and listened to concerning the pandemic, and the Covid-19 vaccination process?

The Pitlochry Festival Theatre Sound Stage returns, projecting storytelling experiences through auditory theatre. This time, launching with Blaccine: First Dose, a co-production with new writing room Stockroom to craft a trio of personal monologues which range in intricacy and structure to share unique and authentic stories of Black people living within the UK and their stories over the last few years (and further).

Sharing their roots within Stockroom, the triptych of Maheni Arthur, Tonderai Munyevu (who also directs), and Isaac Tomiczek work with co-director Debbie Hannan to stitch together experiences spanning from 2020 to today and how the pandemic solidified, strengthened, and spotlights the barriers already drawn: of class, of discrimination, of corruption, and of institutional racism and the widening gap.

And how a predominantly white media mindset rippled conjecture and often baseless claims of the resistance and attitudes to the Covid-19 vaccinations from Black British communities and nationals. Starting up the conversation, rather than speculating, Blaccine opens the doors to the diverse and formidable forces and pressures influencing the lives of Black people across the UK today to offer an accurate – and importantly authentic account of experiences. Together, these monologues laced with a mellow back and forth between the writers lead the stories into one another, though not always seamlessly, with a brief introduction and segments between the stories: starting with Isaac Tomiczek’s Brixton Royalty. 

A tremendously proud sense of community emits within Brixton Royalty – the ablest to transition out of the auditory and into a fully-fledged (and much-needed) production to shake up the British Theatre landscape. Much of the passion in Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer’s performance comes through with ease, in the joviality of everyday life of a young Black man who wrestles with his identity within the UK, within London, and within the line of being Black, Black British, culminating in an exquisitely delivered line of a lateral-flow test for ‘Blackness’.

Immediately Louis Blatherwick’s effective sound design comes into play with the ripples of the Pandemic’s ambulances and new bulletins ebbing into the mundanity of everyday life – offering dimension and space to the monologues – a sense of time and place more achievable as Rina Mushonga’s composition ebbs out to allow for distinct moments.

A common theme through the three monologues is the history outside of the recent pandemic, and how a different, though no less shaping virus has infected: one of gentrification and trickle-down politics, of identity and mistrust of systems designed without Black communities in mind. Blaccine pushes for the encouragement of not only Black stories but specifically those of Black women, and the shared experiences which can be punched into the British theatrical scene is Arthur’s The Process.

Using their monologue to demonstrate the day-to-day misdemeanours and grievances which lead to a mistrust of the medical profession in black women through her character’s cervical screenings and experiences with misdiagnosis and uncomfortable body language. Guiding audiences through the young life of a black woman and to the present – where the others take a more upfront stance, Arthur’s writing has a neater, more subversive knack of bringing information through their words – but Michelle Tiwo’s performance lacks the fire and direction structure to benefit from its arrangement.

Distinctly more personal, Tonderai Munyevu’s Trigger Warning comes over as a journalistic entry, a re-telling of experiences and reflections. Rippled with laughter Munyenvu’s writing infuses the difficulties in discussing the past and the urgency of the present with a tight and sharp sense of humour – never tasteless, always personal, and honest. Stefan Adegbola undertakes a lengthy, at times, tricky role in communicating the complexities of identity, and beautifully realising Munyenvu’s writing and communicates just how the Pandemic itself made he, and others, feel ‘Black’ from proud immigrants pigeonholed for the media to utilise.

While powerful and re-vitalising, Blaccine requires audiences to continue to receive their boosters – to remember what they’ve heard and to retain the information: not to let it slip back into obscurity. It can hit hard, but elements of the less narratively focused structures and penchant for extending beyond the point may lose focus outside of the harder-hitting and more engaging moments.

New Year’s comes with the trials and expectations of looking forward, perhaps Stockroom and Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s newest entry into the Sound Stage collective can rekindle listeners’ efforts to not merely look forward but to reflect on how little we have moved on since having our eyes opened at the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak. Collectively Blaccine makes for an honest and engaging start to Sound Stage’s return – and is likely to resonate wide within communities and listeners. 

An Honest and Engaging Start

Blaccine: First Dose is available for streaming on January 12th, 19th and 26th.

Tickets for which are available from Pitlochry Festival Theatre here.

Photo credit –  Nigel R Glasgow

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