The Moorings, 31 Glenbervie Tce, Wellington

20/02/2015 - 01/03/2015

NZ Fringe Festival 2015 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Call Mr. Robeson, an award-winning play which received a standing ovation at New York’s Carnegie Hall in February 2012 and was staged in London’s West End in October 2013, is to be performed at the Moorings as part of Fringe NZ 2015

This rollercoaster journey through actor/singer Paul Robeson’s remarkable life highlights how his radical activism caused his downfall. It features some famous songs (including a dramatic rendition of Ol’ Man River), some of his speeches, and a defiant testimony to McCarthy’s Senate House Un-American Activities Committee. 

Written and performed by Nigerian-born, UK-based playwright and singer Tayo Aluko with live piano accompaniment, Call Mr. Robeson was chosen by The Guardian’s theatre critic Michael Billington as his top pick for things to see in London in January 2011. 

It has sold out several established theatres around the UK, including the Lowry Studio, Belgrade Coventry, Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, The Bolton Octagon, and most famously at the last ever performance at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in June 2011 before it was closed down for redevelopment. During October 2014, it enjoyed a 4-week residency at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden, where BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends presenter Clive Anderson saw it and later described it as one of the most memorable plays he had seen in 2013. 

Among the many awards in the Call Mr. Robeson cabinet, the latest was won at the Atlantic Fringe in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada in August 2013, where from an international field it was awarded Best Musical Performance. It also won Best Solo Show at the Stratford-upon-Avon Fringe in 2013 and the Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence and the Best Male Performer Award at the Brighton Fringe in 2008.


What some critics said:
“First-rate. A fine job” (4 stars) The Guardian
“Simply told but immensely powerful.” (4 stars) The Scotsman
“A thrilling, moving and marvellously entertaining musical drama. … totally soulful and convincing” Latest 7 Magazine
“Aluko is a force of nature. Never less than utterly believable” (5 stars) British Theatre Guide
“A stunning piece of musical theatre” (5 stars) Fringe Review
“A must-see experience. A treasure of a show. TOP PICK!” D C Theater Scene 

Aluko, who has performed the play on stages across the UK, USA and Canada, and also in Jamaica and Nigeria said, It’s going to be an absolute pleasure making my first ever trip to New Zealand with this play, about fifty years after Paul Robeson appeared there to great acclaim, on what would end up being the final tour of his career – a fact I mention in the play. I look forward to sharing his captivating, inspiring story with the Wellington crowd.” 

Call Mr. Robeson. A Life, With Songs
the moorings, 31 Glenbervie Terrace, Thorndon 6011, Wellington
20 Feb, 8.30pm; 21 Feb, 8.30pm;
22 Feb, 4.30pm; 23 – 25 Feb, 7.30pm;
26 – 28 Feb, 8.30pm; 1 Mar, 4.30pm
Show length: 80 minutes (no interval) 
Age Recommendation: 12+
Tickets Available from Eventfinda

Designed by Phil Newman

Theatre , Musical ,

Deepens our understandings

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 22nd Feb 2015

I am literally awestruck when I enter the house that is The Moorings, the venue of Call Mr Robeson: A life with Songs. This whare is seriously kick-arse with peeling wallpaper, scrim and ambience so thick it’s verging on suffocating. And. And there’s a ballroom that you step into from a sash window on a landing, down staircases sprinkled in glitter. With that sensory overload and a rather portended effigy hanging from the roof (that I am assured isn’t attached to this production)* I wonder where the f**k I have been, to not know of this venue until now.

Sitting down, I take in the set spread across the ballroom: the ephemera of a performer’s life – photographs, programmes; the flags of Wales, America and the United Kingdom – and an accompanying dreadlocked musician (Julian Raphael).

The only knowledge I have of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) is that he’s a singer with a distinctive voice as referred to in a lyric of a Michael Franti/ Spearhead song, ‘Stay Human’ (All the Freaky People), “Baritone like a Robeson recording”. I’m about to be schooled as Taya Aluko enters carrying a chair and singing a Spiritual song: “Nobody knows the Trouble I’ve seen”.

As the life story of Robeson unfolds it’s apparent this man was truly revolutionary with an obvious athleticism (he was once described as 6’4”, 200 pounds of dark devastation) and intellectualism that was admired but – given the history of the United States and the time period in which he rose to prominence as a singer and actor – also feared and then vilified.

While I have no doubt after watching this as to the political significance of Paul Robeson, I do not quite connect emotionally with the performance. It’s just that I feel like I am constantly told rather than shown. That isn’t to take anything away from the performer, the obviously well–researched and well-crafted production, the soundscape, musician, enthusiastic, helpful and lovely producers and an audience who is so very appreciative of the work. I know this, because I watch as one of its members sways with eyes closed every time Aluko sings. There is passion, too, with which many engage during a Q and A after the performance.

The many awards on the worldwide circuit suggest others too, have responded positively. Even understanding theobvious resemblance with Maori struggles and calls for tino rangatiratanga, and that Robeson came to Aotearoa in the 1960s and recognised the similarities, it’s still not quite enough to engage me fully. 

It’s the singing mixed between the talking that really is the strength of this performance. Tayo Aluko has a beautifully, rich voice. It provides welcome respite from the lifetime of information packed into a 90 minute show. And by the way audience members respond, this is why they are here, to listen to Aluko renditions of Old Man River and an assortment of Spiritual songs popularised during that era.

When Aluko breaks into the character of Robesons wife, Eslanda Goode Robeson, who may just be worthy of her own production given her own achievements, that too provides a break from being spoken at.  

As this government prepares to enter New Zealand into a war, there is something prophetic yet also maddeningly familiar in a way (Civil Rights Movement, Race Relations, McCarthyism, “You’re with us or with them”) about Call Mr Robeson: A life with Songs. And on reflection, it’s why I encourage you to see it. At times our understandings of ourselves and the way events shape us, over and over, are deepened and best reflected from outside of ourselves. 
– – – – – – – – – –
*Thin plays at The Moorings, 7pm.


Editor March 2nd, 2015

Thank you Maria - corrected now.

Maria WILLIAMS March 2nd, 2015

Just FYI the actor is called Tayo Aluko.

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