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Review: Call Mr Robeson: A Life, with Songs
KATE JONES reviews Call Mr Robeson: A Life, with Songs, a one-man show currently on tour. It is coming to Coventry (Belgrade Theatre) on 27 November and Lincoln (University) on 11 December. For further details see http://www.callmrrobeson.com
Tayo Aluko's one-man performance of his own production, Call Mr Robeson, is a theatre experience with left-wing politics. He manages to convey the life and music of this great African-American, Paul Robeson, who was a star of stage and screen. But he was also a committed socialist, who put his political principles before his career. As a result he is less known today than he should be, especially in the USA.
Tayo gives a good rendering of the power of Robeson's singing in songs from spirituals to socialist songs like Joe Hill. The show's strength, though, is his first-person account of Robeson's life, from law student and football player, to star of stage musicals like Showboat, the first black actor to play Othello on a major stage, firm friend and supporter of the Welsh miners in the 1930s, victim of the House Un-American Activities Committee, active supporter of trade union and black civil rights in the USA, and supporter of the USSR.
Robeson was seduced by Stalinism, to the extent of refusing to support American Trotskyists persecuted by the US government (although this is not touched upon in this performance) but this should not put socialists off attending this remarkable show.
Nigerian born Tayo Aluko lives in Liverpool and recently gave up his work as an architect to tour with his Robeson show.
The performance ended with Tayo taking questions and discussion - a welcome addition to such a political performance.