‘Sold’ by Amantha Edmead

Written and performed by Amantha Edmead, Sold tells the story of Mary Prince, a woman born into enslavement in Bermuda in 1788.

Mary went on to become a British autobiographer and abolitionist. In 1831 Prince’s book The History of Mary Prince was the first account of the life of a Black woman to be published in the United Kingdom and the book played a key part in the anti-slavery movement.

Sold commences with Mary Prince sitting down with Susanna Strickland, the woman who, given Prince’s illiteracy, would transcribe Prince’s life narrative. In the midst of narrating her life to Strickland, Prince suddenly starts dancing and singing to the accompaniment of Angie Amra Anderson playing a djembe drum. The audience is then transported back to the beginning of Prince’s life as she narrates how she was born in Bermuda; how she was repeatedly sold to different slave owners, transported from Bermuda to Turks & Caicos to Antigua; how she was married to Daniel James and eventually taken to work in London, where she met abolitionist Thomas Pringle. 

The use of the djembe drum, song, and dance gives the effect that we are hearing Mary Prince tell her story in her own words via non-western storytelling practices. Occasional interjections from Strickland – for example, the irony of her expressing her requirement to take a break from transcribing Prince’s life because it is “too much” – effectively remind the audience that The History of Mary Prince was transcribed by a white woman. However, Edmead’s writing and Euton Daley’s directorial choices effectively give the impression that the audience is hearing Mary Prince’s story in her own words, ensuring that the voice of this historically significant Black woman is placed at the forefront.

And this seems to be the overall goal of the production. The performance is bookended with Edmead sitting on a block reading the biography of Alexander the Great. By the end of the performance, however, Anderson removes the biography of Alexander the Great from Edmead’s hands, replacing it with The History of Mary Prince. As Edmead poses the question to the audience, “Is our present now linked to our past?”, the production clearly demonstrates its educational goal to highlight how the United Kingdom’s present is inextricably linked to its past involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.

Photo Credit: Angie Amra Anderson & Amantha Edmead: Park Theatre

While strong in concept, there were some problems in transferring the production to the Park Theatre. In the first conversation between Mary Prince and Susanna Strickland, for example, there could have been more clarity in the focus of Edmead’s gaze, so that when she transferred from playing Prince to playing Strickland it was clearer that the two women were sitting in the same room. The seating of the Park Theatre also meant that, when Edmead performed from a seated or reclined position on the ground, it was very difficult for the audience beyond the front row to see her.

In general, however, the writing, direction, and musical accompaniment combined to create an engaging, well-paced, and educational production. Edmead excellently portrayed the variety of characters that she multi-rolled – I was particularly impressed by her ability to mimic the sound of a baby crying. Edmead also had a beautiful and powerful singing voice that effectively called the audience to join her in her singing of ‘How Great Thou Art‘. Anderson’s djembe-playing also effectively communicated tonal shifts: the violence of a slave auction or scene of punishment could be movingly conveyed through her playing of the drum and expressionist movement and vocals from Edmead. As a result, the production could communicate the violence and injustice of slavery without indulging in gratuitous spectacles.

Sold was a showcase of intelligent acting, directorial and musical decisions. It effectively told the story of Mary Prince – a significant historical figure whose story should be wider shared. I could particularly imagine the afterlife of Sold involving touring UK schools, spreading the story of Mary Prince, and reminding audiences of how important her story is in understanding twenty-first century Britain.


Sold ran at the Park Theatre until 6th November. Book tickets and find out more here.

SUMMARY

A showcase of intelligent acting, directorial and musical decisions, Sold effectively tells the story of Mary Prince, a woman born into enslavement in Bermuda in 1788 who went on to become a British autobiographer and abolitionist.

OUT OF 100

Story
85 %
Acting
80 %
Directing
50 %
Set Design
70 %
For the Culture
85 %
Music
80 %
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