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Review – Malaolu’s Samskara, a fusion of dance-theatre examining generational Black masculinity

Review – Malaolu’s Samskara, a fusion of dance-theatre examining generational Black masculinity

Hackney Wick’s The Yard presents Samskara, a physical theatre show blending hip-hop, dance and text, exploring vulnerability, emotional trauma, and how cycles of fathering affect masculinity. 

The Black Nod is not just ‘hey racism exists and we’ve got a coherent experience…’, The Black Nod between mandem is also, sorry we was all such dickheads to each other fam…– Akala 

Paaliba Abugre SAMSKARA by Lanre Malaolu Photo credit Helen Murray

Award-winning Malaolu wrote and developed Samskara through his experiences of the last decade, thanking multiple sources for planting the seeds which lead to the production:

“Thank you to the brothers at HMP Thameside in 2016, for being vulnerable with me during those workshops, in an environment that doesn’t promote vulnerability in any way, shape or form. Finally, they say your greatest challenges are your greatest teachers. So, thank you, Dad. I wouldn’t have created Samskara without having the experience I did growing up.”

The cast untangles what it means to be a Black man in 21st century Britain. Paaliba Abugre as The Silent Man owns the stage from the second you enter the theatre. His contortionist movements mesmerise the audience as his body twists in time to Yahael Camara Onono’s captivating drumming. Like a snake charmer, Onono’s folkloric mastery of the djembe controls the pattern of Abugre’s performance, his body tense and arms pulsing in uniformity as if prising open his ribs to expose his heart, breathing deeply, until a stronger power snaps him closed. 

The deep representation of pain, softness and discipline is counter-balanced by Malaolu’s intertwining of humour and stereotypical truths; Wisdom’s (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) confidence in making the best jollof rice, despite his Caribbean roots. Young Buck, (Ntonga Mwanga)’s swagger and charisma command such a stage presence that whilst watching his smirk you are almost distracted from the sincerity of the play’s message. 

Will Atiomo enchants as Father, portraying the conflicting roles faced by Black fathers and sons in England. The constant debate of being too soft or too harsh is at the forefront of his behaviour. From dictatorial fathers to absent ones, the inner struggle of right and wrong end up preventing the men from being the fathers they desire to be.

As Older, Razak Osman widens the perspective of relationships between Black men, from familial to professional, bringing to light the struggles faced by Black teachers, along with the disadvantages thrown at Black boys in school.

The scrutiny surrounding masculinity and fatherhood in Black Britons is evident when rebellious roadman Mwanga says 

“no one tells me what to do! Except my dad – but he ain’t here so no one can tell me!”, 

and when Alvin-Wilson’s Wisdom states, 

“love is a verb, not a noun…carrying – protecting – attacking…affection don’t pay the bills! Acts of service does. Waking your ass up at the crack of dawn – providing – putting clothes on backs – sacrifice.”

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Though the production conveys a serious message that is sadly all too familiar within the Black population, its escapism through rhythm and music lightens the spirit and gets the audience moving. With melodies from reggae pioneer Bob Marley and old school classic Sisqó, to modern-day grime hero Dave, the upbeat and representative tunes resonate with audience members of all ages, keeping us immersed in the stories and experiences of the men on stage, whilst bringing the sweet sound of Black music. 

The role of music as crucial within the lives of these men is noticeable from the get-go, 

“Young Buck skanks like no one is watching!!!! Gun fingers galore, head bops wildly, arms shoot all over the place…he looks erratic, perhaps even ‘aggressive’ to some, but it’s his freedom, his release, his joy.”

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By Phoebe Fraser

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