Rough Crossings

Written by Simon Schama, adapted by Caryl Phillips
Liverpool Playhouse (16th-27th October 2007)

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This is a superbly staged adaptation of the book Rough Crossings by Simon Schama, relates the story of the black slaves who fought on the side of the British army during the American War of Independence.

After often performing heroics on behalf of the Brits, with many losing their lives, the freed slaves were then betrayed by them. Exiled to the inhospitable climes of Nova Scotia, they aligned themselves with the white abolitionists to establish what they were promised would be a new life free from tyranny in Sierra Leone.

The central part of the play is the conflict between a liberal white patriarch John Clarkson (Ed Hughes) and black militant separatist leader Thomas Peters (Patrick Robinson) who had no trust at all in the dealings of white people.

The stage setting is engrossing at times. The stage goes up and down on occasions similar to the rolling deck of a ship or to indicate that characters below deck are enduring bad times on a voyage. The backdrop is a large screen positioned at an odd angle, on which shots of tidal waves of the sea are projected onto it.

But perhaps most impressive of all - and some have considered it too decorous for such a subject matter - is the live music which goes from the extreme of Handel arias to gospel singing.

My only misgiving of the production was that it went on a wee bit too long - it could have been cut by at least twenty minutes without any real loss of dramatic impact. At times there is an overload of infomation supplied to the audience, without providing any greater insight into the appalling treatment of black people at that time.

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Comment left by Ed Barrett on 21st November, 2007 at 16:28
The only disappointing thing for me about this play was the size of the audience. A great play, a relevant topic, with a brilliant cast, but the Playhouse was only half full. I guess the recent run of King Cotton at the Empire may have soaked up all of the audience for a play about slavery; if so, it was a shame.

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