When the original run of Talawa’s Run it Back was cancelled in March 2020, I was gutted.
This would be Talawa’s inaugural production at their new home, Fairfield Halls, in the heart of East Croydon, but – as with so many other theatres – the production had to be postponed as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. By the time I finally watched the show in September 2021, then, my anticipation for Run it Back had been building up for over a year: I had high expectations. And Run it Back well and truly delivered.
Perhaps the best way of explaining Run it Back is that it takes everything we expect theatre to be and completely blows it apart. The production started with a bang: the company ripped apart police lines on opposite ends of the traverse stage and entered on wheeled platforms to the thumping music of Psykhomantus on the decks. The audience was immediately transported to the interior of a disused warehouse with front-row seats to ‘Sound Clash 2021’, watching in awe as the company of nine skilfully moved their bodies to the beat.
While functioning as an ode to Black British music history – featuring everything from Soul II Soul’s Back to Life to Russ Millions x Tion Wayne’s Body, Gracious K’s Migraine Skank and K.I.G.’s Head, Shoulders, Kneez And Toez – Run it Back was most original in its exploration of the politics of the dancefloor. This included a segment in which actors Bimpe Pacheco, Hayley Konadu, Yemurai Zvaraya and Verona Patterson shared their enjoyment of whining and daggering, but frustration at men for sometimes taking things too far. This then evolved into the aforementioned actors switching positions and beginning to dagger the actors – Azara Meghie, George Owusu-Afriyie, Johnson Adebayo, Mateus Daniel and Montel Douglas – previously daggering them.
Other provocative moments included a segment in which one of the male actors removed the wig of one of the female actors, causing the other male actors to laugh and point and take pictures of her on their phones. Meanwhile, the female actors delivered a speech reflecting on the violence inflicted by Black men upon Black women, while creating a protective wall around their friends.
Such moments demonstrated how nuanced explorations of Black British identity can be when Black actors aren’t afterthoughts simply added to production to meet a diversity quota but are central to the narrative and themes of a production. A segment in which African and Caribbean dance styles – as well as the pronunciation of ‘plantain’ – were contrasted, for example, particularly emphasised the nuanced heterogeneity between Black Britons: the diverse cultures represented within the African diaspora.
Beyond the production itself – conceived and directed by Coral Messam, created with Gail Babb and co-devised by the Talawa Young People’s Theatre 2018 – Talawa did an outstanding job of reaching out to a young Black audience demographic. As a result of offering free tickets to Black people between the ages of 16 and 25, the audience of Run it Back was filled with young Black people who were actively encouraged to wave flags and plates in time to Psykhomantus’ music.
Altogether, Talawa’s first production at Fairfield Halls, Run it Back, was an outstanding triumph completely unlike anything currently on offer in the London theatre landscape. In its form, themes and relationship with the audience, Run it Back challenged so many expectations of what theatre could or should be. I waited over a year to watch Run it Back; hopefully, it won’t be too long before I get to enjoy another fantastic production in Talawa’s new Fairfield Halls home.
Run it Back played at Fairfield Halls from 2nd – 18th September.
You can find the Run It Back playlist on Spotify