Ma Joyce’s Tales From The Parlour

Ma Joyce’s Tales From The Parlour
Zoo Southside (Venue 82)
3 stars ***

THE POLITICS OF RACE often suggests – intentionally or otherwise – that “black culture” or “black experience” in Britain is a single phenomenon, rather than a hugely rich and varied one.  Victoria Evaristo’s low-key but interesting show highlights the experience of a black British character who is not young, is not male, does not live in London, and has no Caribbean family background; she is Liverpool born and bred, she lived a while in Africa with her Nigerian-born husband, and she is a mother and a grandmother, with strong views about family life.

She welcomes us into her parlour in the aftermath of her birthday party, although she doesn’t quite divulge her age.  She offers tea and crisps.  And for an hour or so, she reflects on her life, and on the pace of change in world where it was thought OK, when she was a child, to put her up on stage to sing a song called “I’m A Little Nigger Doll”; but where, now, she cannot even call herself “coloured”, but has to remember that she is “black”.

The play lacks any real sense of drama; Ma Joyce has no particular reason to be talking to us.  But there’s a sense of a character who has somehow never internalised the self-hatred that white culture often imposes on minority groups; with the help of her community, her city, her happy marriage, she has survived personal tragedy with her self-respect intact.  And her story comes as a powerful reminder that the history of black people in Britain has many faces; some of which reflect dignity, and wisdom, and strength, in quantities that can truly change the world.

Joyce McMillan
Until 30 August
p. 269


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