• Amy Toledano

Messiah presented by Bear Trap Theatre

What is it?

Messiah is a Bear Trap Production written by Paula B. Stanic & Jesse Briton playing at the Stratford Circus Arts Centre, commissioned by the theatre and Bernie Grant Arts Centre and with development supported by Ovalhouse.

What is it about?

A fascinating and exhilarating story of political activist Fred Hampton, often referred to as the ‘Black Messiah’, who fought for revolutionary change for the Black community in Chicago. This brutal story highlights the perspective of the predominantly white police force on political party of “Black Panthers” in the 1960’s and the corresponding reality of what the people of this party had to deal with.

How did it make me feel?

I so wanted to feel like a revolutionary during this production. At the beginning there is a rally, and audience stands to join forces with the ‘Black Panthers’. Unfortunately though, as the piece develops, this energy is lost. Everything is consciously understated, which does give the leader, in particular, a sense of calm collection that does result in a higher status, however this overriding energy of the play means that often the action falls flat. Interjections from the Sergeant, played by Lewis Hart, create a good contrast and keep the play evolving.

The two perspectives running throughout lead to a nice balance; the high pace of a police investigation versus the tender and happy moments of home life for Fred Hampton and Deborah Johnson, the mother of his child. However, it needs further undertones to carry a higher sense of urgency. The character of William O’Neill, played by Gerel Falconer is a fantastic boost to the atmosphere, with energy that is emphatic. I found myself longing for more fast paced interjections such a his to carry the slower moments, and to bring the anger of this police brutality to into the minds of the audience.

Anything else?

It is heart-breaking to witness the undeniable racism the Sergeant, and his police force, project. The ‘I can’t be racist, I have black friends’ rhetoric along with the pretence that the ‘Black Panthers’ were consulting with gangs and promoting violence, and that their deaths were only caused by self-defence of the police force's behalf, is all received bitterly and with anger.

Messiah is not just period story from the 1960’s, it is a modern-day reality. Fifty years have passed since the police brutally killed Fred Hampton, and yet this show could simply change the characters names, and it would still be a relevant play for contemporary audiences. It is extremely important for this story to be told, as Fred Hampton’s life is not wildly known, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to be educated on him. I hope that Bear Trap Theatre company will continue with this show in the future.

Eleanor x

Messiah is playing at Stratford Circus Arts Centre until the 30th November 2019.

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