This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour is invited to review productions by The RSC throughout the year.
By David Fox twitter.com/DavidFoxTheatre
This production was placed on hold on Monday 16th March with the remaining performances cancelled.
Please note: The Whip contains strong language, themes around slavery, and some scenes that some people may find upsetting. The production has scenes of historical medical procedures including some blood.
The Whip at The RSC
How much is the life of a man worth? How far would you go to do the right thing?
Just two of the questions brought to mind by the RSC’s stunning new play The Whip, written by Juliet Gilkes Romero, and directed by Kimberly Sykes.
London,1833. Parliament is debating a new bill which will see the end of colonial slavery throughout the British Empire, championed by Alexander Boyd (Richard Clothier). As the bill progresses Boyd faces opposition from all sides and finds himself party to the machinations of political friends and foes alike.
While the titular whip alludes to the tool used to punish and subjugate the colonial slaves, it also has political connotations, referring to the role of governmental Chief Whip, held by Alexander Boyd. In public, Boyd garners support from former slave and abolitionist Mercy Price (Debbie Korley), while at homes he deals with conflict with his ward, runaway slave Edmund (Corey Montague-Sholay) and servant, ex-Northern cotton worker Horatia Poskett (Katherine Pearce).
Focussing on the emancipation and enfranchisement of both slaves and women The Whip is compelling viewing, dealing with hard-hitting ethics and moral dilemmas such as slave owners putting profit before a human life and how to end the suffering caused by man’s inhumanity to man. At times hearing the testimonies of runaway slaves, and the conditions they faced at the hands of cruel masters, was uncomfortable and harrowing – the eerie silence in the theatre is one that will stick with me. Such horrors are at times punctuated with humour, mainly from servant Horatia Poskett and a great performance from Katherine Pearce.
The Whip boasts a fantastic cast, from the ensemble to the central protagonists of Boyd, Price, Edmund, and Poskett. Richard Clothier is outstanding as Boyd, who varies between vulnerability as he wrestles with his conscience and fortitude as he battles (metaphorically and sometimes physically) with his political opponents. Similarly, Debbie Korley is magnificent as Mercy Price evoking both shock and great sympathy from the audience with her performance.
Director Kimberley Sykes returns to The RSC following her productions of Dido, Queen of Carthage (2017), and As You Like It (2019). Her direction of The Whip is striking, sophisticated and stylish. While the acting was superb I particularly liked other design aspects of the play such as the simplicity of the set, with just a few items of furniture, props, and lighting used to evoke different scenes (most effectively during the scenes in Parliament). Music from Yshani Perinpanayagam also added to the overall power of the play and was at times haunting and evocative.
Juliet Gilkes Romero is an award-winning playwright and journalist who has reported for the BBC from countries including Ethiopia, Haiti and Dominican Republic. Her most recent work is for the TV series Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle (BBC4), co-produced with Sir Lenny Henry’s Douglas Road Productions.
Previously for The RSC, she co-created Day of the Living, which played at The Other Place as part of The RSC’s Mischief Festival in 2018. The Whip is clearly a heartfelt project for her, with her knowledge, anger and passion shining through her writing, bringing life and awareness to the story and this part of history.
While based on historical characters and events, at times the political plotting reminded me of House of Cards and The Thick of It, while other aspects of the play, such as early media spin, governmental corruption and cover-ups brought to mind real-life tragedies such as Grenfell. The Whip is an incredibly modern, powerful, and prescient play with themes that resonate strongly with a modern audience: worker’s rights, immigration, stirrings of nationalism, a country worried about its international reputation and a public divided in its’ opinion. How much has really changed in 270 years?
Following such greats as such as Volpone, King John, and Miss Littlewood, The Whip is the latest in a long line of remarkable productions staged by The RSC at The Swan theatre and one of the best plays I have seen in years – showcasing both theatre and The RSC at its very best. An edgy, intelligent, and thought-provoking new play that not only shines a light on a forgotten part of British history but (as with all the best theatre) also allows us to hold a mirror up to today’s society and think about our own beliefs and morals. The Whip is a first-rate production and an absolute must-see!
The Whip was at The RSC until Monday 16th March 2020
This isn’t a sponsored post.
When not writing for BrumHour, David Fox spends his time wondering when Checkov is back on the midlands stage or is that Chekov?