Natasha Ali discusses ‘Black Training’, presented by the Durham People of Colour Association.
Durham is probably one of the places most in need for a play tackling racism. Especially modern racism. It’s no secret there’s a massive divide here between the international and British students and to an even to a lesser and pettier extent, different colleges.
Black Training follows a brother and sister as they travel on a train and experience micro acts of racism along the way. We follow the inner thoughts of characters, seeing how prejudice and discrimination still walks among us and hear about how this affects our two leads. It’s an important issue to address and this is a really good idea to address it with. Unfortunately, I don’t think it worked very well in theatre format.
The staging had issues. The first scene is just two characters talking at each other and not moving, even when the piano kicks in and they start a spoken word piece. The actual train scene, whilst well-set, was made so I couldn’t actually see various characters faces while they were speaking. The dialogue was complicated, filled with metaphors and difficult vocabulary and overall hard to follow especially because some of the actors were regularly stumbling over lines. This made it hard to keep up with the narrative writer Dan Takyi was trying to present.
The things said and done in the play also didn’t feel like micro acts of racism. It felt like blatant racism that I honestly haven’t seen happen in real life. Fetishizing black women, people touching afro-textured hair without permission and assuming someone likes KFC because they’re black are all, to me, microaggressions that need to be addressed. But this play brushes over that and focuses on the n-word and people scared our leads are going to steal their purse because of the colour of their skin which to me isn’t micro. It’s just plain wrong and the characters other than our two leads were so unlikeable they didn’t feel like real people.
The biggest problem I had is that it felt more like a PSA than a piece of drama. The characters were treated as props that spew out idea after idea, and by the end I barely knew anything about them. The others didn’t get given any information or interesting traits other than the fact they were all racist stereotypes. It also doesn’t reach any kind of conclusion. I don’t understand what the message was. One character says racism in Britain will always be a problem. I don’t want people to come out of this thinking like that. We should show characters learning and evolving. We should see how humanity can become better. All this accomplished was showing how everyone secretly has some preconceived prejudice and that there’s nothing we can do about it. Which I don’t think is true. Maybe it would’ve been better to see people learning from their mistakes and accepting what they said was wrong. Instead we just get our two leads shouting at everyone for an hour.
That’s not to say I thought none of the ideas weren’t well executed. Having a POC with white paint act as a white person being racist to our two leads helped show just how ridiculous and ill justified racism can be. The spoken word bits were very well written and all the core ideas brought up were good and worth discussing.
At the end one character asks the audience if we see now. And I’m really sorry to say I don’t. I wish I did, but the way information was presented was really complicated and I don’t think a clear, definitive message was given. I’ve just never met any people that act in the way the people in the play act. One time I went with my mum to watch a Romeo and Juliet ballet and the man playing Romeo was black. My mum whispered to me that ‘Romeo’s black!’. It wasn’t said in a malicious way but the fact she felt the need to point it out, to me, is what micro acts of racism really are. I wish the play had focused on lesser, every day and more realistic things like that.
Once the play finishes, the cast and prod team line up and read out some stories of racism experienced in the last two years. Honestly, for me this was way more compelling than the rest of the play and I kind of wish the plot was based around those stories rather than the hyper surreal piece we ended up getting.
In conclusion, while Black Training had good ideas, an awesome concept and was written very poetically and politically, it failed to make an impression on me which is a shame, because I really wish it had.
Black Training will be playing in the Fonteyn Ballroom in the DSU at 7pm on Friday 21st June.