A blistering requiem for forgotten souls is provided by Selina Thompson in her 75-minute monologue Salt (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs), directed by Dawn Walton. Salt, here, is a symbol of tears, sweat and the old wounds.
Early on, self-possessed solo performer Rochelle Rose starts to smash a large pink block of rock salt with a sledgehammer, symbolising an attempt to destroy the weighty legacy of the Atlantic slave trade. The gesture is cathartic–the block splinters dramatically–but the evidence of the ills of the past can never be erased.
In 2016 two artists embarked on a cargo ship to retrace Britain’s slave routes, encompassing Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, all the while contemplating the notion of home. In Belgium, she experiences the full force of an all-too familiar 21st century racism. On reaching Ghana she’s transfixed by the distressing memory of the ingrained prejudice but when she journeys to Jamaica, she’s buoyed by a sense of the island’s fecundity. Both real and imagined, this was a voyage to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, propelled by questions and grief; a journey backwards to go forwards, a diaspora.
Thompson no doubt feels a strong empathy with the souls of the past and breaking up the rock recalls the punishing labour carried out by countless slaves.
This is a heartfelt production which takes the form of a brave, honest and unforgiving poetic meditation. But it suffers from repetition with the points made somewhat over-emphasised.
Nevertheless it is a passionate, rigorous work which blends the high seriousness of a moral essay with a vivid, intimate style of storytelling and a raw and unexpected brand of humour that ensures this is an angry but never depressing piece.
Plays at Royal Court Theatre Upstairs Runs until Saturday 1 June.
Box office: 020 7565 5000.Last modified: September 17, 2020