The US in the 1960s. The civil rights movement. This is a familiar setting, or at least we think it is. On a bare stage, 21-year-old Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton and his pregnant partner Deborah Johnson – who is two years younger – dance joyously. An X beneath their feet marks the spot in their home where Fred will be killed by a police officer.
Angelina Chudi and Shaq B Grant give commanding and compelling performances as the young couple. Placed in limbo with a fox-like, unnamed police sergeant (Lewis Hart), they re-enact their versions of the fatal raid. But it’s Fred’s legacy that is really at the heart of this piece. Is he just a kid no one will remember, or a revolutionary force who brokered peace on Chicago’s streets?
Panther member and friend William O’Neal (Gerel Falconer) flits around them, always talking.
This mix of devised and scripted theatre, co-written by Paula B Stanic and Jesse Briton, makes for a playful, electric and heartbreaking ride.
Briton’s economical staging consists of just four actors, three chairs and an old spin-dial phone. The play is a tense battleground of ideas, and the debates about guns and non-violent protest feel fresh and urgent.
Staging oppression for shock value can be done thoughtlessly in theatre, and there are certain moments here that don’t quite feel justified. But this densely packed tribute to forgotten figures of resistance scalds in its proximity to the present.