Woke – Review – Junction Goole

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By Rachael Popow, October 2018

Goole may not seem like the most obvious place to go for a thought-provoking insight into America’s Black Lives Matter movement, but that’s what Apphia Campbell’s delivered when she brought her one-woman show Woke to Junction.

To be fair, this wasn’t Florida native Campbell’s first trip to Goole – she previously appeared at Junction in her sold-out show Black Is The Colour Of My Voice. Sadly, she was playing to a smaller audience this time, but Woke still made an impact.

The play, which won the Scotsman Fringe First Award for its premiere season and was highly commended by the judges of the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award, sees Campbell weaving together the stories of two African-American women, separated by 45 years, who become involved in the struggle for civil rights.

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“Views are challenged”

One is the real-life activist Assata Shakur, born JoAnne Byron, who embraces the Black Panther movement and a new identity in New York during the 1960s, and subsequently ends up on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List.

The second is a young woman who has been brought up to believe that if you respect the law, you have nothing to fear from it, and that most of the civil rights battles have been won. Her introduction to Black Lives Matter comes almost by accident when she enrols in college in St Louis in 2014, just as unrest is breaking out in nearby Ferguson over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

After her views are challenged in an African-American literature class, she attends a protest to learn more and unexpectedly gets a lesson in just how easy it is to be criminalised in America.

“Voice that needs to be heard”

But while their experiences may be different, for both of the women the question is whether they will continue to fight once they realise how the system is stacked against them.

The current day section is the most powerful, not least because Campbell shows how a naive student becomes gradually more aware of the political situation around her, and offers an intriguing look into the American legal system.

Meanwhile, the Assanta scenes are more impressionistic, and may send anyone who isn’t already familiar with her to Google to understand more about exactly what she was accused of and why.

But no matter which of the characters she is, Campbell completely holds the stage, giving two equally compelling, and very different performances. And when she sings the blues and gospel songs that punctuate Woke, it’s clear that hers is a voice that needs to be heard in more ways than one.


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