SOLD (4 stars)

This article is from 2019


Harrowing piece of physical theatre about the life of a slave called Mary Prince 

The distressing subject matter of British colonial slave ownership is given remarkable extra power in Sold, the actual story of a real slave called Mary Prince who was born into slavery in Bermuda, but wrote an autobiography in later life after she achieved freedom.

Oxford theatre company Kuumba Nia Arts tell the story of Prince, the first black slave to have her autobiography published, with an immensely energetic staging featuring just two performers. We're spoiled to have Amantha Edmead's vital performance in such an intimate space: she is sensational as she flits between all the characters in the play, notably playing Prince as well as Prince's scribe, to whom the former slave tells her story, as well as a handful of her British owners. Angie Amra Anderson, a performer and drummer, whips up a frenzy of beats in support.

Director Euton Daley and writer-performer Edmead employ a couple of tactics which insightfully switch up the way Prince's agonising story is told. Startling contradictions are created by Edmead, transitioning between characters with her quill in hand, adapting from poised listener of Prince's story to re-enacting brutal scenes of Prince being beaten, whipped and flogged by her owners.

Elsewhere, one of the most powerful scenes illustrates the brutal violence by staging none of it. The scribe carefully reads Prince's story back to her, to ensure she's got it right for publication. She reads in vivid detail the account of Prince's fellow slave Hattie, who was beaten while pregnant until she miscarried.

Sold's experimental form beats the audience into submission. It's a wonder Edmead doesn't fall into the laps of audience members on numerous occasions as she flings herself across the stage. She's the picture of fear and survival as she endures flogging after flogging while her plans for freedom ebb further away. Anderson's dominant drum beat is intense and constant; the audience have absolutely nowhere to escape.

Pleasance Courtyard, until 25 Aug, (not 19), 12.45pm, £11 (£9).

SOLD: The Mary Prince Story

  • 4 stars

Play with songs about Mary Prince, who was born into slavery in the British Caribbean, and whose published autobiography helped bring the slave trade to an end.