Chichester: The Long Song offers a compulsive piece of drama

REVIEW: The Long Song, Chichester Festival Theatre, until October 23

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 7:58 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 8:00 am
Tara Tijani (as July) & Syrus Lowe (as Nimrod) in THE LONG SONG at Chichester Festival Theatre   Photo by Manuel Harlan
Tara Tijani (as July) & Syrus Lowe (as Nimrod) in THE LONG SONG at Chichester Festival Theatre Photo by Manuel Harlan

A play depicting the sheer brutality, inhumanity, and pure wickedness of slavery in Jamaica is unlikely to ever make comfortable viewing.

But this world premiere of a new adaptation of Andrea Levy's novel is a compulsive piece of drama that succeeds because it views its subject through the prism of the individual.

July is a remarkable woman.

And this is her story - of her resourcefulness, her tenacity, her wholesome good humour, and her determination to survive despite the slavery which engulfs.

Llewella Gideon's portrayal of the old woman reminiscing on her life is perfectly pitched. There is no self-pity here - just a steely determination to navigate her way through life while her privileged, white slave owners seem the poorer of the two communities.

The adaptation by Suhayla El-Bushra challenges popular misconceptions too.

It's so easy to think that when slavery was finally abolished after 300 years in Jamaica that it meant liberation for the oppressed. On the contrary, there was little instant respite as personal slavery was replaced by an economic one that already held captive working classes around the globe.

They did not own their homes, nor their land, nor their plantations.

Their options were limited - to continue almost as before or walk away. What courage it took to do the latter.

But this is not an overtly political piece of theatre - though it resonates deeply with Black History Month.

It is one woman's tale not merely of endurance and survival - but of personal triumph against all the odds.

No wonder the audience gave such applause.

Gary Shipton