Lament For Sheku Bayoh
- Gareth K Vile
- 27 August 2021
This International Festival piece about Scottish racism and a 2015 death in police custody is eloquent and shocking while getting a little lost in details and grief
In Lament For Sheku Bayoh, Hannah Lavery's script addresses both the specific events surrounding the 2015 death in Scottish police custody of this Kirkcaldy father of two and the wider problems around racism in this country. Concluding with a montage of video footage from the campaign to investigate Bayoh's death and various Black Lives Matter protests, it uncovers the problem of institutional racism and the uncomfortable denial of bigotry in Scotland. Indeed, the inclusion of poems by Rabbie Burns and projected images of Scotland's beautiful countryside insists on the tension between this society's perception of itself as anti-racist despite considerable evidence to the contrary.
Problems with the production do not come from a lack of ambition: a brief scene that depicts a challenge made to Scottish complacency is a rare moment of theatricality in a show that relies heavily on the situation's emotive nature and takes its considerable power from the subject matter. Three performers address the audience, explain the scenario, grieve, and challenge the racist status quo, with a fourth providing guitar and song. But the dramaturgy struggles to find a way to make the lament more than a ritualistic repetition of key details and anguish.
The material itself is, of course, crucial, and it's unsurprising that scenes of BLM protests are the most evocative and powerful. Lavery deals with the failure of Scottish society to escape its blinkered racism, offering possibilities for new ways of discussing the consequences. While this is vital, it does not necessarily make for theatrical impact. Her poetic language and the intensity of narrative both strain against the format's restrictions, with frustrations expressed by Bayoh's family reflected in circling around details, the examination and re-examination of facts, and the accounts of those police officers involved.
Lament For Sheku Bayoh strives to become something more than theatre: a public declaration of grief and hope, a condemnation of lazy answers to police brutality and a recognition that Black Lives Matter is a living concern in Britain as well as America. It is moving, it is shocking and it is, at times, eloquent and evocative.
Lament For Sheku Bayoh, The Lyceum, Friday 27 August, 7.30pm; Saturday 28 August, 2.30pm, 7.30pm, £22 (£15); available to view online at eif.co.uk/at-home, until Tuesday 31 August.