Call Mr Robeson
8 November 2011 WOS Rating: Hull Truck Theatre Studio Paul Robeson had such a range of influence and achievement that I wondered which Paul Robeson this one-man show would celebrate: the civil rights activist, the Shakespearean actor, the best-selling singer, the Communist, probably not the college football star? The free sheet that accompanies Call Mr. Robeson makes it clear that Tayo Aluko is not about to neglect the great bass’s political role: it makes bang up-to-date reference to 50% increases for bosses of major companies and the possible ejection of the protesters outside St. Paul’s. In fact writer/performer Tayo Aluko pretty much covers the whole range. He was initially prompted into study of Robeson by an audience member who noted the similarity of his singing to the great man and, while his voice lacks the cavernous depths of Robeson’s, he fields a warm and rich bass-baritone, emotionally charged and heavy on vibrato, that makes the most of such numbers as the old slave spiritual, “Steal Away”, and can remind us of the magic of Robeson in “Ol’ Man River”. Even the performances of Othello are recalled, with a splendid finale, as Robeson dies, interpolating Othello’s great final speech (“Speak of me as I am...”) into “Goin’ Home”, the spiritual from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. However, it’s Robeson the activist who is celebrated most of all, the 1950s years of black-listing proving the intense and dramatic heart of the piece. Tayo Aluko’s Robeson is inclined to arrogance and a womaniser (comically conveyed in one of the few touches of humour), at times paranoid and briefly suicidal, but, above all, committed, prodigiously talented and dedicated to the service of others. It’s good to find that the meticulously researched script gives due attention to Robeson’s identification with the Welsh miners which went far beyond the famous film, The Proud Valley. Call Mr. Robeson was first seen at the Edinburgh Festival four years ago and has toured, sporadically, but with increasing success, ever since – another Yorkshire date, at Scarborough, follows in November. It’s a powerful and moving performance, with Aluko supported by the excellent pianist Michael Conliffe who does far more than accompany the songs; some of the finest moments come from his apposite musical commentary on Robeson in full oratorical flow. Olusola Oyeleye (director) and Phil Newman (designer) provide a simple and effective framework, with the designs ingeniously based around flags and the stored mementoes of Robeson’s life. - by Ron Simpson Related Content Back to Northeast Homepage
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p... Matilda on Broadway wins five Drama Desk Awards The Broadway transfer of Matilda The Musical has won five gongs at the 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards... Pulitzer winner : Islam is 'ripe territory' for drama Ayad Akhtar Ayad Akhtar's play Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, receives its UK premiere ... Michael Coveney: New York honours Matilda with five big awards First blood in the New York awards contest went to Matilda last night, as the show walked off with... Opening: Relatively Speaking, Southwark Playhouse's Tanzi Libre & NT Shed's Bullet Catch Among this week's major London theatre openings, in the West End and further afield, are Relatively ... Young Vic's award-winning Doll's House transfers to West End Carrie Cracknell's critically acclaimed Young Vic production of A Doll's House, using an adaptatio... Let It Be extends booking at Savoy until Jan 2014 Let It Be, the concert show based on the music of The Beatles, has extended its run at the Savoy... West End gets Lucky with Tom Hanks? Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks is reportedly in talks to reprise his role in hit Broadway play Lucky ... Benedict Nightingale on judging the Bruntwood Prize Guest Blog: Former Times theatre critic Benedict Nightingale is among the judges of this year's Bruntwood Priz... : Theatre 'flops' ripe for reinvention Ten of the Best Defining a theatre 'flop' is no straightforward task. A general rule of thumb could be that it mak...