Twenty One Pounds review at Everyman Theatre

A true story addressing Gloucestershire's slave history, Twenty One Pounds saw a small cast tackle a monumental topic with tact and honesty, making for a gripping and thought-provoking performance at Everyman's Studio Theatre.

A brave play which addresses a slice of Gloucestershire’s dark – and largely unknown – history, Twenty One Pounds offered an evening of gripping drama and shocking home truths at Everyman’s Studio Theatre.

Directed by Everyman Theatre’s Paul Milton, the original story explores Gloucestershire’s surprising slave heritage, written by local writer Martin Lytton and based on extensive research.

For the many who may think 'that would never happen here', Twenty One Pounds is proof that it did.

For the many who may think ‘that would never happen here’, Twenty One Pounds is proof that it did, drawing on real events and people who lived in our very own county – making the play ever more compelling.

The story focuses on young slave girl Hannah, telling the tale of how she came to end up in Gloucestershire and her surprising family ties – uncovering dark secrets and shocking behaviour along the way.

Opening with a number of facts about slavery in Gloucestershire – names, numbers and places uncomfortably close to home – the cast immediately captured the audience’s attention and broadcast the stark reality of a very local history.

What followed was an evening of drama, mystery and music, with the small but terrific cast changing roles flawlessly and with conviction. Etta Fusi played three slaves; Madeleine MacMahon transformed from slave owner to widow, to downstairs worker; and Gregor Hunt switched between abolitionist, lawyer, religious figure, and wealthy plantation owner.

From the mesmerising musical opening to its dramatic ending, Twenty One Pounds kept the audience captivated thanks to a brilliant script and story, moving 20 years through time, and across the world from Gloucestershire, to Bristol, to Antigua.

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Surely a daunting feat when faced with a stationary set and three-person cast, the scene and character changes only added to the play’s absorbing nature, incorporating a mix of haunting and catchy melodies – all sung beautifully.

What’s more, the play addressed difficult issues such as racism tactfully, portraying the awful prejudices at the time but without distracting from the drama.

Not a history lesson, not a documentary, and not a judgement, Twenty One Pounds was a breath of fresh air.

Similarly, the treatment of slaves and descriptions of ‘how they don’t have the same emotions as us’, was tough to listen to, but offered an accurate depiction of beliefs at the time – showing people who weren’t inherently evil, but who simply didn’t know better.

Not a history lesson, not a documentary, and not a judgement, Twenty One Pounds was a breath of fresh air, raising incredulous laughs and gasps from a captivated audience.

Whether you’re interested in local history, the slave trade, or simply love great theatre, Twenty One Pounds showcases stories you’d never believe are true – but they are… and they are definitely worth hearing.

Twenty One Pounds will be at Everyman Theatre until Saturday 27 May 2017. For more information see Twenty One Pounds, call (01242) 572573, or visit everymantheatre.org.uk directly.

© SoGlos
Thursday 25 May 2017

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