Stripped back history play brings Shakepeare’s Globe and Headlong to Northampton stage
Like this pared back, stark adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V, the audience was much reduced on Wednesday’s Press Night, due to heavy snowfall.
But those of us who made it were tucked warmly into the Royal, watching the 20-something, newly-anointed King, bruised by his dying father’s distain, wreak havoc across France after being ‘dissed’ – if you will – by the delivery of a tennis ball.
Enraged by Charles VI of France’s apparent slight and determined to become a warrior king and claim France as his birth right, as his dead father had done, Henry invades, and begins a bloody campaign that culminates in the battle of Agincourt. (Read up on your history if you didn’t do Henry V at school, as it gets pretty complicated, with references to English subjugation of the Welsh, who ultimately provided the 500 longbow archers who laid waste to the French bogged down in the muddy battle.)
This lauded production, a collaboration between Shakespeare’s Globe, Headlong and Royal & Derngate, started its creative life at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, essentially the indoors bit of the Globe, which seemed to use chandeliers and candlelight to give the production a switch from light to dark. On the Royal stage, the set is starker, with rows of green chairs facing each other to indicate the French and English, and a ruched green curtain drop alternating with an impressive and effective distressed mirrored backdrop. In Northampton, the chandeliers looked more like suspended light-sabres, which didn’t have quite the same effect.
The company of ten actors share all the parts, and while this is a very ‘male’ play (and on International Women’s Day I did feel a bit exhausted by the angry, entitled violence of it all), the mixed gender cast do a sterling job of keeping the dialogue comprehensible.
However, the adaptation has them in quite possibly the worst collection of ill-fitting chino trousers I’ve ever seen outside Twickenham on a match day.
OK, so there’s no cliched armour, swords or period frocks, but the contemporary clothing just made it more confusing to keep up with the character switches – apart from shrugging off the odd shirt to reveal white ‘wife-beater’ vests during the fighty bits.
Strong among the performances were Georgia Frost (Nym/Rambures/Williams) who brought a fizz of energy to every scene, James Cooney’s subtle side-eyeing which could be detected even several rows back, Joshua Griffin’s frustrated and almost controlled Fluellen and Jon Furlong’s impressive pre-interval death (no spoilers). Emotional performances from Helen Lymbery (Henry IV/Uncle Exeter) and Oliver Johnstone as the titular King must be exhausting.
It’s a lot of story to cram into a couple of hours, and I kind of missed the context of the Pistol/Bardolph/Nym spoils of war link. And I’d have like to have lingered a little longer over the forced marriage/courtly love scene, where the teenaged Princess Katherine (of Valois, she’s buried in Westminster Abbey btw, and would go on to produce the Tudor line) is offloaded by her parents to the King who just slaughtered their citizens.
I’d be surprised if the schools haven’t snapped up the matinees because this production is a total shoo-in for an English or drama essay in future studies, especially with the sharp (and I meant total switcheroo) final scene, which slams us into a present-day immigrant citizenship exam. The roar of laughter from the audience confirmed the direct hit, although Shakespeare purists may not agree.
Henry V runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday March 18, box office 01604 624811
The performances on Wed 15 March 7.30pmwill be Audio Described and will be preceded by a pre-show Touch Tour. All patrons attending the tour should meet at the Box Office at 6.30pm, where a member of staff will then take them into the auditorium. Please email email@example.com to book the Touch Tour.
The performance on Thu 16 March 7.30pm will be performed with integrated British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation
Historic campus making way for housing after the main campus moved to Waterside in 2018
It’s difficult to count the number of students who must have passed through the doors of Avenue Campus in Northampton, now under demolition to make way for a housing estate.
From its official opening by the late Queen’s mother and father, the then Duke and Duchess of York in 1937, Avenue Campus in St George’s Avenue has had several names and purposes relating to education. From the purpose-built Northampton Technical College in 1924 through incarnations including the Central College of Technology, Northampton School of Art, Nene College, University College Northampton and eventually University of Northampton. Eight decades of students and staff have worked and studied on the site (and no, it was never a mental hospital as the rumours had it.)
According to the University archives, On March 11, 1867, a free public lecture on Science and Art was held by the Museum Committee in the town hall (maybe the Guildhall, which had just been built in the same year?) It was so popular evening classes in painting and drawing started in October.
Art evening classes continued and expanded, closely linked to science classes, until in 1894 the Northampton and County Modern and Technical School was established.
In 1907 the evening class organisation became the Northampton and County Technical and Art School, with the Art School functioning separately. A further name change occurred the following year, to Northampton and County Technical School and School of Art.
One source states that the Northampton School of Art was re-designated the Northampton School of Arts and Crafts in 1917, but there are no documents in the archive from this date. However, two documents contained in the archive dated 1934 and 1937 use this form of name for the Northampton Art School.
The School of Art continued to grow, working in overcrowded rented accommodation, until new purpose-built premises were opened in 1937 next to the Technical College on St George’s Avenue.
In 1954, the Central College of Further Education was established, to include both the School of Art and the College of Technology. The School of Art appears to have continued to function as a separate college. It is likely that relevant papers were destroyed by a fire in a County Council records store.
In 1972 the School became known as the College of Art and 1975 saw the establishment of a college of higher education, Nene College. The Northampton colleges of Education and Technology along with the School of Art were amalgamated to form this new higher education college.
After many years as a journalist, I joined the university as a part-time lecturer on the journalism degree in 2009 and quite liked the building. My former classroom/newsroom was called MB5, later renamed the Matthew Engel room, down the hill opposite the rather useful cashpoint at the base of the Bassett Lowke halls of residence. It had a beautiful parquet floor and students in Year 1 could pretty much roll out of bed and into my lectures, but often still managed to be late. Many times the fire alarm would go off and see students having to stand on the Racecourse in their pajamas at all times of the day, waiting to be allowed back to bed. The radio studio on the same floor was named after Jo Whiley.
I have plenty of good memories of the place, but also of the people. My first mentors were the now retired Richard Hollingum and Ted Sullivan. Avenue had plenty of great guest speakers, from Chris Mason, now BBC political editor, to the late Faye Weldon and comedian Stewart Lee.
The offices for staff were up the stairs, but due to the layout of the building, on a steep slope, they were really on the ground floor. I shared an office with the journalism and media staff, and it was a welcome hideaway where we could support each other, get marking done in peace and swear loudly when necessary.
One area, tucked away behind a large weeping fig, disposed of by the authorities in the move to the new campus, was a small sofa and this became ‘Hilary’s crying corner,’ not for me, but for students, when the pressures of academia all got a bit too much. We were lucky to have our own space and students – although they may not felt so at the time, had a brilliant location for studying – even the day I sent them out to report on a solar eclipse with paper plates.
Despite its whiff of furniture polish, mixed with multitude different cheap perfumes and body odour, I liked the place. Navigating it often felt like going in circles, due to its multilevel design on the only hill in the area. It had brass handrails and tiled walls in the old sections, some of which will stay – with the two ‘end’ buildings saved from destruction due to their listed building status, along with the old caretakers’ house/security building, Quinton Lodge.
It’s the second building I’ve worked in that I’ve watched be demolished, as the old Chronicle & Echo Building at Upper Mounts is now an Aldi…
All over the Market Square stalls were busy and there were some fabulous outfits as the town came together to support Pride and the LGBTQ+ community. Staff from Northants Fire and Rescue, East Midlands Ambulance Service, the Police, WNC and Northampton Guardians had vehicles emblazoned with the Pride Rainbow while there was a roaring trade in flags. See our photo gallery below and video walkthrough.
Review: Hairspray. Royal and Derngate, Northampton (opening night January 31)
I had never seen Hairspray before. Yes, I know, I know. It’s one of the most popular musicals in the world, an award-winning tour de force combining fantastic music and storytelling and genuine social commentary that, although set in 1962 Baltimore, certainly still resonates today.
But musicals…? You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, right?
“Just admit that you loved it Mum and write ‘It was great’ over and over until you hit the word count,” suggested my 13-year-old, musical-theatre fan daughter.
“And don’t call me a fan, I’m not a fanatic.” (This is what you get bringing up four kids with two journalist parents). “And don’t call me a kid…”
OK, so it was great. Really great. You don’t need to go to the West End when the West End comes to Northampton. I was blown away by the skill of the huge cast – more than 20 on stage for complex yet seamless dance sequences, belting out song after song from the best known You Can’t stop the Beat finale to the intricate Mama I’m a Big Girl Now and I Know Where I’ve Been.
The show opens in ‘60s Baltimore, Maryland, with ‘gently plump’ schoolgirl Tracy Turnblad (Katie Brace) belting out Good Morning Baltimore with her trademark black flick beehive, observing the flashers, rats and alcoholics before heading home to agoraphobic mum Edna (a drag role played by Alex Bourne) and joke-shop owner dad Wilbur (Norman Pace, yes, the one from Hale and Pace, all you people of a certain age).
Tracy and her best pal, Penny (Rebecca Jayne-Davies, aforementioned daughter’s favourite actor of the night), tune in their TV to the Corny Collins Show, a teen dance programme, based a on a real, American Bandstand-esque show of the time. Tracy and Penny yearn to get on the show, but detention, mean girl Amber (Jessica Croll) and her pushy TV producer mother Velma (Rebecca Thornhill), plus a massive dollop of classism, racism and body-shaming, look like killing their dream.
But Tracy bunks off school, meets heartthrob Link (understudy Joshua Pearson did an excellent job on first night) and makes a big impression on show host Corny (Richard Meek), as well as winning the show lots more fans and a plus size clothing contract. Cue loads of amazing costume changes (bravo Takis).
But Tracy’s stardom is short-lived. With and with the help of Motormouth Maybelle (the extraordinary Brenda Edwards), her kids Seaweed (Reece Richards) and Little Inez (the very talented Charlotte St Croix) and others segregated by their race (despite it being over 100 years since slavery was abolished in the southern states), they storm the show and a riot sees everyone locked up. (Locked up for protesting? How very now…) Cue a race to escape and get everyone live on air for the TV show finale.
Hairspray the Musical came after John Water’s cult film of 1988, which starred Ricki Lake as Tracy, Debbie Harry as Amber and drag icon Divine (in his last role) as Edna. Waters was to cut through the discrimination of the 60s still evident in the 80s, from racism to gay rights.
Today’s Hairspray does the same, skewering the biases and bigotry with a riotously funny musical. Bourne and Pace have a hilarious chemistry and comic timing as Edna and Wilbur, while Brenda Edwards’ voice during Maybelle’s protest ballad I Know Where I’ve Been moved many to tears – such is her power (and yes, she’s the one off Loose Women, The X-Factor and Songs of Praise). Newcomer Katie Brace as Tracy is a total star – from her voice to her movement and acting with every inch of her face. You also can’t take your eyes off Charlotte St Croix (Little Inez), who I’m confident will be one to watch.
There’s not enough space here to name them all but it’s an incredible cast at the top of their game – from the skill of the dancers on a relatively small stage to the live band who sometimes appear as part of the show – we’re really very lucky to have the Royal and Derngate for these top-of-their-game touring shows.
It WAS great!
Book now if you can, it’s on until Saturday (February 5) with tickets from Derngate Box Office or on 01604 624811.
It’s not dignified. I’m 55 and I’ve gone over the handlebars of a bike twice in the past year.
Fortunately I roll like an 80kg medicine ball and didn’t land far from the track on either occasion.
Somehow my injuries were only skin deep, more importantly my bike was fine and if I’m honest, I’ve got no-one but myself to blame.
One incident was a simple error of judgment, in terms of when to keep both hands on the handlebars (for beginners I’m now advising two hands down a wooded hillside), and the other was an experiment with kinetic obstruction detection which involving a collision with a bollard in the dark.
I could say it’s because I’m a mountain biker but let’s be honest, there aren’t all that many mountains in Northampton.
And mountain biking, as I practice it, has been mostly about cycle-paths, bridleways, woods and farm tracks with a rare trip to a proper bike park.
My life on wheels is not a glamorous Red Bull Rampage – it’s more of an Elastopast Disaster. And far from filming my exploits for YouTube, I am mostly grateful that no-one has seen the stupidity I am capable of.
However, the arrival of Northampton Bike Park has now revolutionised my adventures and it celebrates one year of operation on Saturday with an open day.
Martin Barnwell, Strategic Director of Operations at Northamptonshire Sport said: “The event is a chance for our wonderful team, volunteers, and visitors to mark our first year. We’ve seen a great summer season with plenty of people visiting, and as we approach our birthday, it’s the perfect time to celebrate.
“The park overcame some early teething problems with the drainage system and other challenges new bike parks often encounter, this day is also about acknowledging how far the site has come.
“In particular, we want to encourage new visitors to try the park. If you’ve never been before you’ll be made very welcome. Bike hire and free coaching sessions are available on the day, so please come and have a go.”
Essentially, the bike park is a network of trails built into the hillside between Brackmills and Hardingstone.
If you’re arriving by car head for the golf club car park at Delapre and take your bike through the underpass to find the trails. If you’re navigating the Brackmills cycle paths to get there, then you are heading for the back of the Criminal Justice Centre.
Each trail is colour graded by difficulty with a sign at the start indicating what you are about to take on. Green is the easiest, blue takes a bit more physical effort, red takes more effort and more skill and black is the highest skill and effort level.
Green and blue trails – as a general rule – can be rolled through meaning that you can get round them with both wheels on the ground although there may be jumpable sections if you choose to do that. Traditionally only red and black trails put obstacles in front of you where there is no option to back out.
When it was first built, the drainage on the site wasn’t quite right and the first heavy rainfall turned some of the trails into rutted porridge. That was fixed however, and now the park offers full whoop-de-woo, 24/7.
The basic experience is going up a hill slowly and coming down quickly in a fun way. There were some weeks in the summer when I was up there every day and, touch wood, I haven’t come a cropper so far taking on the challenges it offers.
If I can iron out some of my basic errors on the way there I’ll be fine…
Northampton Bike Park is operated by physical activity, health, and wellbeing charity Northamptonshire Sport. You can find out more about Northampton Park Bike here –www.northamptonbikepark.org.
‘Booker Young Chef of the Year’ is one of 18 categories in this year’s Weetabix Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards. Sponsored by the ever supportive Booker, with an aim to encourage young talent and help to shine a light on the up and coming stalwarts of the kitchen.This year’s finalists, all under 25 years old, initially sold their potential on paper by describing their signature Northamptonshire dish.
Invites were sent to contest for the title at Northampton College. Thomas Farm Shop at Ecton kindly supplied Belly and Tenderloin of Pork, Friars Farm wholegrain mustard, Northampton Charcuterie Company pancetta and Shoots & Spores black pearl mushrooms. The challenge was to prepare a main course for 2 including the Northamptonshire produce, a potato element and at least one vegetable cooked in two different ways, all in just 2 hours.
The Booker Young Chef of the Year Finalists for 2023/24 are: Thomas Giles from The Falcon at Castle Ashby, Levi Moukam from The Falcon at Fotheringhay, Harvey Tapp from the Snooty Fox at Lowick and Jade Walter from Rushton Hall.
Harvey Tapp commented: “It was definitely something different and interesting to me and I’m glad I did it. To see other people my age interested in cooking and seeing what they produced, I really enjoyed it. I was pleased with my dish but I could have made it better, I’ve cooked a lot of pork before just not tenderloin so that was something new.”
Last year’s Gold Award winners of ‘Booker Young Chef of the Year’, Hannah Dunne and Shawn Monk have been lucky enough to spend a day in the kitchen with decorated chef Chris Galvin. This was thanks to new Awards Patron Professor David Foskett, with a ream of accolades to his name. But more importantly he has co-authored Practical Cookery Levels 1,2 and 3, Theory of Hospitality and Catering, Food and Beverage Management and Hospitality Supervision. These books have sold over 2 million copies in 140 countries.
David has been voted one of the most influential people in the hospitality public sector. Awards Director Rachel Mallows said: “I couldn’t be more delighted to have David’s support. Him wanting to be a patron, with so much experience means so much to me. And to see one of the finalists turn up today carrying one of his books only reaffirms the importance of what we are trying to achieve.”
Gold award winners for the ‘Booker Young Chef of the Year’ category will be announced at the Awards celebrations taking place on 1st November 2023 at the Royal & Derngate theatre. For more details on all the categories in the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2023/24, including downloading entry and nomination forms, please visit the Awards’ website – www.northamptonshirefoodanddrink.co.uk – or call Sophie on 01933 664437 or email firstname.lastname@example.orgYou can also follow the Awards on Facebook at @foodawards or Twitter and Instagram at @foodawardsHQ or on LinkedIn at @weetabixnfadawards
“Just because they give you a seat at the table, doesn’t mean they want you to speak at the table” – Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Postcolonial Banter
Was the Coronation Simply Imperialist Tea on the Lawn?
As Britain lies in the wake of a triage of royal propaganda since last summer – the Queen’s Jubilee in June, The Funeral in September, and more recently the Coronation of Charles and Camilla – uncritical engagement with the monarchy does not end with national commiserations of empire and imperialism. In Northampton, the postcolonial nonchalance continues with organisations like the Royal & Derngate’s upcoming Windrush 75 event in late July, while in May they were two-siding the monarchy when they invited author-historian Tracy Borman to talk about How to Be A Good Monarch. This is further to the fact they were the endorsing the monarchy last summer as they held space for Northampton Bach Choir’s Jubilee Proms, all this while having previously made so-called ‘commitments’ to Black Lives Matter and anti-racism. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to be saying that you are organisationally in support of anti-racism, only then to be celebrating the monarchy?
As I walked the streets of Northampton in days leading up to The Coronation Weekend, I was reminded at how unsafe Britain is if you happen to not be born into a bubble of white privilege. Northampton Town Centre was populated with rippling red, white and blue – jingoism mimicking the days preceding and following the Jubilee. And I was triggered: cafes, restaurants, and pubs which are supposed to present safety for all customers, suddenly leaned into overt support of white supremacy, uncritically embracing the far-right – flags like body bags; bunting galore curating a Little England for the white and British.
What the comedian Jack Whitehall humorously stated as “Tory Glastonbury”, was white supremacy in full swing. Universities, for example, were at the nucleus. In writing this article, I spoke to Rhianna Garrett – a PhD researcher, scholar-activist and geographer looking at the relationship of space – who passionately talked to me about how institutions made efforts to appear apolitical, while there was “distinct differences in the treatment of whiteness and events in comparison to non-white social issues.” Universities nationwide acted effectively to both the Jubilee and the Queen’s Death, further to The Coronation.
Garrett elaborated, saying universities had budgeted for royal celebrations, to include “social media, deals on food, celebration materials, days off etc and force everyone to participate.” She also said this included higher education imposing this on international students who do not care about this culture. And as Charles and Camilla showed off their gold coach, public sector workers continue to be problematised for asking for a livable wage. No pay for teachers, nurses, rail workers, and university lecturers, but the nineteenth century royal coach that Charles and Camilla rode in, is reportedly worth £2m.
The Cost of Capitalism is a political choice having a disproportionately negative impact on working people. Images of exuberant levels of wealth was streamed through our televisions, phones, and other smart devices as the population were expected to tolerate this institution of violence. Yet, I say “expected to tolerate”, but we are tolerating it. As I wandered Northampton that weekend, I was troubled by the silence of white leftists who were happy criticising systems in private but when I asked them for comment for this article, were silent. Or as Audre Lordestated decades ago, “Your silence won’t protect you.”
Since June 2022, Nenequirer editor Steve Scoles has supported the publication of two articles on The Queen’s Jubilee and her colonial legacy, responding to wider debates about the monarchy’s facilitation of violence and unfairness. In our conversations last June, we debated about the possibility of The Queen’s death and possible backlash. The Queen then died in September, and this provoked another article. Analysis from activists, scholars and your Joe and Jane Bloggs from the street (not all of them I agree with) about the monarchy since June 2022 arrived – while I saw a big debate on empire and colonialism that eclipsed the same conversations following the Murder of George Floyd three summers ago.
LBC journalist Tom Swarbrick (who used to be advisor to Theresa May … ahem) further challenged a royalist caller. This time around, I found social media commentary to be quiet in comparison to The Jubilee and Queen’s Funeral. Though, the tweet about #TamponGate by author Kelechi Okafor made me laugh. Comedy has long been used by Black people on Twitter to commentate on serious issues (#BlackTwitter). As sometimes, I believe if we do not laugh we will cry. Kelechi’s tweet was not random, but a reference to a 1989 phonecall between Charles and Camilla that was leaked by the press in a 1993 scandal. The two had an intimate sexualised exchange. In short, he confessed to wanting to “live inside” Camilla’s trousers, joking that in another life he might be reincarnated as a tampon.
Furthermore, schools as institutions that often talk about safeguarding children were doing the most during The Jubilee and Coronation. Historically, schools have been key supporters of the British Empire. In his book Empireland, author-journalist Sathnam Sanghera talks about how private schools staffed the British Empire. Sanghera observes such schools included Uppingham in Rutland, Eton in London, and Clifton in Bristol – the last described as a school that “usually trained the men who took up lowlier but still prestigious positions in the military and imperial service …” This made private schools ideal for planting colonial ideology in the minds of children. Schools too, have historically celebrated Empire Days.
When I talked to literary critic Prof Corinne Fowler, she further told me “Having been involved in the training of history teachers, the legacy of this is apparent because trainees are typically unaware of the royal family’s 270-year connection to slavery.” And while Empire Days stopped in England in 1958, when PM Harold Macmillan made an address about it in Westminster, Empire Day in Northern Ireland only stopped in 1962. As far as The Coronation, one teacher told me about the alarming numbers of “resources, displays, worksheets, and art projects written about the upcoming coronation in primary schools.”
The Department of Education pushed a narrative that situated the monarchy as objectively good, and used state schools to do it: “Our timeline is filled with joyous #Coronation celebrations in schools across the country! Special thanks to Fairfield First School, Necton CofE Primary School, and Inclusion College in Hampshire for sharing these with us.”
Schools further show their complicity in the continuation of whiteness via uncritical implementation of ‘British Values’ as a “moral education”. Scholar-activist Red Medusa also showed how the way children are looked after by adults in their spheres of influence can and should have activist interpretations. It shows that it is well within parents and guardians’ rights to disagree with school decision-making, and to in fact act independently for the emotional safety their child(ren) – when schools cannot or will not act.
Increasingly, whiteness is appearing in more naked terms as the British state leans further and further to the political right. This country has more foodbanks than McDonald’s restaurants and the climate crisis is now also appearing more brazenly. On one of the hottest days of the year, my friend and colleague Northamptonshire Rights & Equality CEO Anjona Roy (quoted in the first essay) was delayed returning from London due to points failure and fire near the tracks, showing the double threat of climate disaster and austerity. This was followed by police arresting anti-monarchy protesters on Coronation Day.
The state-imposed grief last September moved adjacent to the many preventable COVID-19 deaths and high mortalities largely due to policymaking, in contrast to alleged corruption in government. This article is the final of three, just reflecting on my thoughts on monarchy in general, including but not exclusive to The Coronation. As a historian, I am seeing colonialism has come home to roost – from heritage organisations that uncritically celebrate empire to police forces being trained to crush rebellion, this is imperial violence at home. Meanwhile, speaking out against the establishment is being contested as anti-British and it is being pioneered by Black and Brown people under the racial optics of diversity.
In the wake of the Queen’s Funeral and The Coronation of Charles and Camilla, it is clear anti-monarchy debates are no longer only a Black-white problem, but a people problem. As journalist and political commentator Ash Sarkar says, “I mean, this idea that all you need is brown faces in high places is just absolutely for the birds. […] That just because somebody shares some of your identity attributes, it doesn’t mean that they are going to be organising in your interests.” The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion agenda has many in a chokehold; representation politics is not the be all and end all for ending racism, where structural positioning and “looks like me” are not the same thing.
Three years on from the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, local organisations mourn colonialism like an old friend as higher educational institutions still talk about the climate emergency with the absence of debates on capitalism and empire. We are now engaged in a war of wills, and summer has arrived – a long summer that may never end.
In my last two essays about The Jubilee and The Death of Queen Elizabeth II, I highlighted royal complicity in the British Empire. More recently, anti-capitalist zine The Commoner kindly published my essay about Black artists, the UK Honours System and the creative industry. Though, whilst Black and Brown people were active resisters to colonialism – as Peter Fryer discusses in his book Black People in the British Empire – today, we have seen an increasing number of Black and Brown people in the public eye rewarded with empire honourifics like MBEs and OBEs for their – arguable though probable assimilation – as well as apolitical public profiles. As Athena Kugblena further tweeted about Black acceptance into the establishment as dependent on “not rocking any significant boats.”
Though, I do know however, some people I know that grew up watching Floella Benjamin on children’s television, find it difficult to challenge her. For context, in May 2023 she was challenged by numerous Black people due to her new portrait (her portrait that accompanies her role in the House of Lords). Her new portrait – showing her dressed in a white ballet costume – was compounded by her decision to take part in The Coronation parade. Floella Benjamin’s participation in The Coronation, represents, as writer-author Nels Abbey tweeted: “Boris Johnson’s greatest legacy … the systemic divorcing of diversity and equality.” In short, the diversity agenda centres and reinforces white supremacy.
During that weekend, popular historian and broadcaster David Olusoga was centre of a Twitter spat with journalist Amanda Platell. In my essay for The Commoner, I discuss this further. To summarise, the journalist claimed he had called the monarchy ‘institutionally racist’ when he had not. However, are they not in fact a racist institution? Why was this a debate? When numbers of people brought challenges on the grounds of colourism, establishmentarianism, and consistency … they were blocked. Proximity to power is something I see appearing in increasingly naked terms for Black people in the public eye, with institutions making sure radical Black people are gatekept from big platforms.
The Black people being given the platforms (in large) are not challenging anything. Is this due to the debates around equitable renumeration and reparations? First coined by Derrick Bell in the 1980s, critical race theorists call this phenomenon ‘interest convergence’ – a situation where Black progress only happens within a white supremacist system when it is not only linked with Black liberals (i.e those given huge platforms), but also the interests of white institutions. It is difficult to see people that look like you and members of your family acting in ways that run counter to the upliftment of Black and Brown people.
Following the release of the government’s so-called ‘inquiry’ into racism in March 2021 – donned The Sewell Report – there was criticism from critics like Ash Sarkar and Dr Halima Begum. However, this is part of a wider grift that continued into the “diversification of the Honours List” following racism allegations after Harry & Meghan’s interview with US talkshow host Oprah. One TikToker also called the Tory leadership race “representation in the pits of hell.” This aptly compliments what sociologist Emma Dabiri later tweeted in May 2022 about how popular focuses on the ‘racial optics’ of representation, “obscures way too much about class, as well as access to opportunities and resources.”
Britain held the most diverse leadership race in the history of the Conservative Party. As openDemocracy editor Nandini Archer wrote: “That’s how the colonial system of ‘divide and rule’ has always worked – it uses Black and Brown faces in high places to serve the ruling class.” Further, the debacles with Floella Benjamin and David Olusoga represents a social and political culture that has divorced equality from diversity, in fact protecting whiteness through the voices and actions of Black and Brown people.
Even worse, as MPs Priti Patel and Suella Braverman – both from African-Asian backgrounds – have pushed policies to the detriment of Black and Brown people, all while refugees are left to drown in the English Channel. In December 2021, Slough MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi gave an address criticising the government for using its Black and Brown MPs to do its racist bidding.
University professor Corinne Fowler further told me how difficult it has been to see Black and Brown people producing works like The Sewell Report that denied the existence of institutional racism, “rather than [illustrating] a demonstrable, verifiable reality and an ongoing scourge.” The literary critic and Green Unpleasant Landauthor added it was depressing to see these very same people in high office “formulate, articulate and promoting policies which stigmatise vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers, and who seek to divide people and promote racist sentiments and policies of all kinds.”
In parallel to government, the role of education as an oppressive structure is beyond reasonable doubt. One of the biggest issues within the education system in the UK now is the amnesia of the curriculum. Since the 1980s, battles over what is included in the core curriculum within England’s schools have been rampant.
In her chapter ‘Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change’, academic Dalia Gebrial writes “… nowhere was the debate more heated … than in the history syllabus” and goes on to say that education scholars described ‘the great history debate’ as “nothing less than a public and vibrant debate over the national soul.” Today, it is possible to still meet schoolteachers and secondary school-age schoolchildren who do not know anything about empire, nor the role of the British Crown within it.
As a freelance educator, I am asked to go into schools to talk about colonialism because the expertise is frequently not within the school. Activist-victimologist Dr Amy Cortvriend told me
Locally, the mural of Charles and Elizabeth on Guildhall Road reminds us of how cultural artwork can be used to perpetuate the mythmaking of the monarchy. Northampton activist Hannah Litt described it as “a slap in the face to anyone that has been impacted by colonialism and a constant reminder of the continued institutional racism the monarchy plays a part in.” Writer-photographer Chris Lowe added: “I would prefer that art on the streets was created in celebration of the people that walk them, work them, live on them and die on them, as many do.”
While we saw Charles and Camilla having a jolly in solid gold coach, schools were some of the most vocal supporters of the royal hurrah. The Department of Education’s Facebook page illustrated the role of schools in the cultural mythmaking of The Crown. At this point, the monarchy have to do very little; the public are doing all the work spreading the story with royal Lambrini, decorative crisps, bunting, and God knows what else. The Jubilee and The Funeral were a marketing masterclass, and The Coronation was the finale.
Schools, like universities and other institutions, were part of the throng. However, though, ‘safeguarding’ is a term often used in schools in the protection of children, there is a selective amnesia when safeguarding does not extends to the preventing the violence of imposing the the monarchy’s values. The legacy of the monarchy’s 270-year involvement with enslavement appeared beyond the interest of schools in favour of smiles and good vibes facilitated by leadership teams and governing boards. Schools were key parts of building the myth of empire, and royal history is still centralised in many history curricula.
Though, whilst some may see this as a good thing, there is research on this going back decades. Why not use what has already been evidenced by numerous already? His ‘pledge’ appeared to act like this new research would be a start from scratch. Performative allyship does not begin to describe it, and what would be more helpful would be a commitment to reparations and reparative justice. As the monarchy has not yet used its platforms to tell their story of colonialism other than nonsense fake apologies that ultimately amount to nothing, including Prince William’s “profound sorrow.”
Adjacent debates over the family feud between Team Harry & Meghan and Team Kate & William only seek to distract from the fact today’s royal racism is connected to – say, the brandings of ‘RAC’ – etched into the bodies of many enslaved Africans leaving Bunce Island (Sierra Leone) in the eighteenth century. The RAC is the acronym for the Royal African Company lead by Charles II and his brother James Duke of York (the future James II), a human trafficking corporation designed to transport kidnapped enslaved Africans from the African continent to the Americas.
Public engagement with Harry & Meghan as somehow being ‘good royals’ is in danger of seeing good in capitalism. The education sector has lapsed in its responsibility to educate and has become part of the allure. Whilst abolition is something on many minds, as a population we are far from this debate; what I do see is far more troubling. Apathy. Not in fact an anti-royal population, but a public that do not care. This comes as Black and Brown students have ‘British Values’ imposed upon them. What makes values British, rather than human? Paul Gilroy’s 1987 book There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jackoffers other points of view about the crossovers of race, class and nation.
Though students are not forced to sing the national anthem anymore (largely), nationalism is imposed in other ways. For example, going to private schools I was told I had to do either Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) or Combined Cadet Force (CCF), so the sum of my choices was monarchy or military? Ultimately, I spent several months in Royal Navy Cadets which was in of itself a sum of monarchy and military. My rights were not respected – as the late bell hooks writes, “When we love children, we acknowledge by our every action that they are not property, that they have rights – that we respect and uphold their rights.”
However, today’s school ‘celebrations’ of the monarchy run parallel to the numbers of Black children in my circles that are victims of racism in school. Even while victim, they are being forced to celebrate an institution that despises them. Worse as statistics are showing many young people (18-24) are not in favour of the monarchy. For example, a YouGov Poll for BBC’s Panoramashowed 4 in 10 of those aged 18-24 of the people polled preferred an elected Head of State. Moreover, data from Statista in April showed likewise. What I saw that weekend was imperial violence at home, with police also acting as the militaristic arm of the state sent in, to curb those protesting the monarchy and the coronation.
On his ascension into Number 10, PM Rishi Sunak inherited legislations introduced by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Firstly, the Policing Act that changed the terms of ‘disruptive protest’ to also include noise. Furthermore, the Public Order Act. Within the latter, new measures would also allow police to ban protests before they happened – preemptively – not dissimilar to the plot to Marvel’s comic story Civil War IIabout stopping crimes before they happen. So, intentions to resist the government, otherwise known as thoughtcrimes – like something pulled from the pages of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Already, we have seen journalists arrested at protests even though the police knew they were journalists. For example, Kent Police were sued receiving a slap on the wrist told they must pay a few thousand pounds compensation after arresting a journalist covering the climate protests. Police have long been the militaristic arm of the state to quell rebellion at home. As far as back as the 1930s, when there were clashes on Cable Street, those clashes were at the end of the baton – police officers brutalising Jewish refugees and Irish migrants in the East End. The police were backing Oswald Mosley (later knighted by the British state) and his British Union of Fascists under the euphemism of so called ‘public order.’
Democracy in this country has always been a pantomime. It is theatre of the absurd with the so-called ‘will of the people’ played out by over six hundred people in Westminster who in large are not allowed to speak their own minds. When those who do speak their own minds speak up, they are systematically silenced and vilified. As we saw with Jeremy Corbyn’s smearing by state-owned media, further to his suspension from The Labour Party.
When I spoke to local activist Paul Crofts – someone who has been on the frontlines of various social justice causes in Northants since the 1990s – he discussed how the police’s approach to the anti-monarchy demonstrations showed the police “do not really understand their role in the context of human rights protections. They see their role as protecting the majority from the ‘disruptive minorities’ who are out to ruin the fun of the majority.”
Violent policing under the euphemism of ‘public order’ is applicable to the policing of numerous groups. In a broadcast for Double Down News, Zarah Sultana MP reminds us of how women were treated as disposable objects when The Met stormed the vigil held in remembrance of Sarah Everard. Wayne Couzens – at the time a serving police officer – was later convicted when it was found he had abused the vague COVID-19 regulations to abduct and murder her – regulations that were also deployed against minoritised groups.
Powers like these given to specific institutions is violence; in a world that thrives on hierarchy, dominance, and social order, the same mechanisms that allowed Wayne Couzens to kill Sarah Everard are the same ones that pervade the establishment. Black communities are by no means the only group impacted by police violence. For example, the overpolicing of gay communities in the 1970s and 1980s. Whilst the annual event Pride is now a source of profit for many institutions under rainbow capitalism, Pride was originally a protest against homophobic policing. It has now been co-opted. i.e why do our local police have a stall at Northampton Pride every year? There is really a selective historical amnesia.
In 1970, at the London School of Economics, the UK Gay Liberation Front was founded when over hundred people rallied against police harassment. Their first protest was in the November of that year in Highbury against the arrest of Louis Eakes on “mere suspicion that he was cruising.” One of the other lasting legacies of historic institutional violence against gay communities is Section 28 – that effectively criminalised gay education in schools. Its wider purpose was to prevent the promotion of homosexuality.
This was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government and is a raw memory for many, including older millennials who were then in school, now in their late thirties and some now in their forties. Anti-Section 28 marches were also overpoliced, as way for police to – for lack of a better term – flex their muscles and assert their power over gay people.
Today, in debates about intersectionality (first coined by Prof Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989) pushes for LGBTQ+ rights still centre cis white men. Black queer activist Liziwe Sam Fembo (he/him) said “white cis gays continually centre themselves in the conversation. Their focus is on marriage, our focus is on survival.” Jack (mentioned above) also said “white cis gays benefit exponentially from their proximity to whiteness. They use it to cancel out their queer identity when in straight cis spaces and further remove themselves from trans people, especially Queer, Trans, Intersex, Black and [Other] People of Colour.”
Perspectives like these necessitate a need for UK Black Pride that has taken place for nearly twenty years. It began in the mid-noughties as a daytrip to Southend-on-Sea by members of Black Lesbians UK (BLUK). In 2019, British Vogue published an interview with founder Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah. These sorts of events remind us how there are always minoritised groups within other minoritised groups. As education academic Dr Riadh Ghemmour further reminds us how privilege is not a binary (i.e having it or not): “It is a spectrum and we all have privileged (and oppressed) identities. Speaking about privilege requires self-examination as it is complex, multi-faceted and (in)visible to many people!”
Considering this further: when you are part of racially minoritised group in a white supremacist society, and then in fact inhabit other markers of ‘difference’ – i.e woman, gay, neurodivergent etc etc – racism makes all forms of discrimination worse. In parts of London, however, like Brixton, bisexual Windrush icon Pearl Alcock from Jamaica “ran underground gay bars, made activist art”, and facilitated important spaces for the Black queer community in late twentieth century London. This occurred concurrently as gay men were convicted for their sexuality. Even as recently as the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it was common for British police to operate in such a way it bordered on entrapment, cottaging etc etc. As police linked homosexuality with crimes like indecency (for example) – so, on paper, gay men even now, remain a large group of sex offenders on UK police records.
With the police institution’s officially being His Majesty’s Police Service, you then see one way the government and monarchy connect. It’s not the government of the people, but one that protects power. Thinking about this, abolition may not go far enough. For example, countries like France merrily colonised others and did so as a republic. In keeping the focus exclusively on monarchy, does this allow governments to evade criticism for their role in violence, no less than the UK government as vehicle for the British Empire?
It was interesting to observe how the liberal left so easily criticised the monarchy during The Jubilee, The Queen’s Funeral, and The Coronation, but were less vocal on the government’s similar involvement in histories of pillage and plunder. We did not choose the Royal Family, but the public have historically chosen its Members of Parliament (sorta).
What the Drax legacy shows is even if you remove the monarchy, we are left with the responsibility of holding Britain accountable as a colonising power, including successive governments that are elected (in the clinical sense) by the people.
Out in provincial England, these motifs are more pronounced. On my visit to Sussex in May I was met with dolphins in Brighton and their links to imperialism. Two summers ago, I was in Stroud (Gloucestershire) before the removal of Black Boy Clock. On that trip, I played cricket in a nearby village called Mirsden. On a separate trip to Gloucestershire, I went to my cousin’s wedding reception in a village called Minchinhampton … the hotel built into the hills. Inside, it was very regency and neo-empire – colonial nostalgia … warts and all.
On visits to the north of England, one instance took me and my friend Shabnam to Cumbrian village Burgh-by-Sands – home to African Romans in the third century. Near to where she used to live in Lancashire, the village Bamber Bridge was a site of domestic white terror. In 1943, white American military police stationed there would regularly brutalise Black American GIs – in fact imposing Jim Crow-esque racism on British soil.
So, there is a false perception the provincial country spaces are, as Corinne Fowler told me, a historically white space seperate from global and colonial activity and far removed from the urban. As we have seen play out, the personal costs for Black and Brown people living here are immeasurable. Corinne Fowler’s Green Unpleasant Landunpicks some of these further, while Neil Chakraborti and Jon Garland’s earlier Rural Racismshows precedent.
Here, in Middle England we can see the fault lines of where Britain’s national character of so-called ‘Englishness’ is being fought. It’s in the silences to critiques of colonial statues; it’s in the poppy fascism of armistice and village war memorials – as the role of Black soldiers upsets the serene of country and rural pastures; it’s in the white identity politics of small town and village pubs; it’s the apathy to cricket being an empire sport, while the ECB claims to want to do anti-racism. As Louisa Adjoa Parker reminds us the British countryside is not excused from contemporary debates about racism: “for people of colour like myself who inhabit this green and (not always) pleasant land, there is too much we can relate to.”
As far as the monarchy, Northampton Town, where I live and grew up, is a place of special significance. The Battle of Northampton was fought in the grounds of Delapré Abbey in 1460; Elizabeth Grey, whose family lived in the village Grafton Regis just outside of Roade – loyalists to the House Lancaster – would go on to marry Edward of York (the future Edward IV) and become Queen of England. The coloniser Charles II saved the town in 1675 donating one thousand tonnes of timber from the then privately owned Salcey Forest to help rebuild All Saints Church. And the Royal Theatre (then Theatre Royal later part of The Royal & Derngate) was named for The Crown. What has often been overlooked is, while Northants has royal links, including as the ancestral seat of Lady Di, its towns and villages were home to enslavers who owned plantations and human property in the Caribbean.
Meandering the place I have called home since I was five years old, I am triggered by the rippling red, white and blue. A flag embraced by fascists being flown by organisations I thought embraced this diverse, multicultural Britain. The sort of nationalism that usually means Black and Brown people are unwelcome, followed by “go back to your shithole country.” Now thirty interviews into my PhD research, I know at one time Northampton was a town where Black children were pursued by the National Front in Far Cotton and Kingsthorpe, and Caribbean men were victim to the white terror gangs of Teddy Boys.
Uncritical engagement with monarchy brings this local and personal history back into the present day. As organisations like Northampton Museum and Royal & Derngate – two that had royal celebrations – are facilitating local replies to Windrush 75, I want to ask how much cognitive dissonance is enough for them to sleep at night? It is insincere for them to celebrate the Windrush Generation, because to do so while celebrating the monarchy is hypocritical. The Windrush Generation come from countries that were British colonies and were colonial possessions of The Crown, and in many ways still are.
At the edutainment event run by Northamptonshire Rights & Equality Council in May at the WACA Centre (mentioned earlier), it was a reminder that opposition to the monarchy need not be made complicated by academic debates over history (though important). At the nucleus, it’s about unfairness. When the Queen died, Charles reportedly inherited £400m without paying the 40% inheritance tax. But if your mother died you would be told to pay it. The Crown estate is worth billions, whilst child poverty in Britain is at 4.3m.
Whilst the last twelve months has been entertainingly bleak, the levels of whiteness I have observed exhumed have shown as Afua Hirsch illustrated, this reality “in an age of branding.” One would have hoped that the death of the old guard – Elizabeth and Philip – would mean the death of the monarchy. However, no such change has come.
In his book Not the Chilcot Report, journalist and author Peter Oborne refers to Britain as a modern state with a medieval core. Whether we are talking about the monarchy banning Black or Brown staff, or Charles’ black spider memos – there is a pattern of the monarchy intervening in political issues. It was just sad that during the Jubilee, the Queen’s Funeral, and The Coronation, many journalists effectively acted as royal stenographers. In short, as 1990s big bad Will Riker said in animated series Gargoyles: “Pay a man enough and he’ll walk barefoot into hell.” Sycophantic media coverage by local and national press was galling because media and public storytelling did all the work.
Debates over asshole private landlords, unaccountable power, and the various isms are all things that permeate through The Crown. We cannot just be ambivalent to the powerful, we must be anti; this apathy to power is how deference continues. In our thinking about equality and privilege, we must also consider how the cultural mythmaking baked into storytelling helps facilitate power – why the advert of The Queen and Paddington was so effective, and why melaninated activists critiquing The Queen were seen as being violent towards a sweet old white woman: because for centuries, white women have been constructed in need of protecting from the ‘savage’ and ‘wild’ Black and Brown racial Other.
As a Black person living in Middle England, I am also grateful to have the national connections I do with other activists across the country including in Cumbria, Gloucestershire, and Sussex as well as transatlantic coalitions with New York City and Washington DC. But the local and personal battles with institutions grate on me – with celebrations of the royal institution while also parroting the language of equality.
Most interestingly, right-wing organisations are more honest about their ethos than liberal ones. As Malcolm X said, “The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor.”
The political right is honestly evil, while the liberal will do the same things but with #BlackLivesMatter and a Pride flag in their Twitter bio. One example is Charles’ guest editing of The Voice in October 2022, showing the monarchy’s commitment to handing out crumbs as a way to distract. All a front: obscured by quiche, coronation chicken, and the Tory Glasto we called The Coronation. But like Teflon, everything rolls off them.
If we are to consider this properly, we also need to stop with uncritical support of Harry & Meghan – both of whom are capitalists. Though, while both were victims of the Royal Family and the British press, Prince Harry himself was in His Majesty’s Armed Forces for ten years of his life. Furthermore, has enjoyed the privileges of a royal upbringing – including the unearned money that has come from historic pillage and plunder.
In Spare (quoted above), he presents that he is a monarchist showing how his equality work will never amount to much while serving – at least ideologically and culturally – the royal institution. Harry and Meghan are “The Neoliberal’s activists”, and at some point, we will need to have this conversation, including experiencing what my friend Sandra calls ‘growing pains’ – to describe the sensation of having the epiphany that allows us to think critically even about things we agree with. Nothing should be accepted without question.
Charles was unpopular even before he became king and between £100m and £250m was reportedly spent on his ceremony. The monarchy is the ultimate expression of inequality, who see themselves only as answerable to God. Now – amid the colliding pandemics of racism, climate change, and austerity – is the time to be thinking if we need this institution ruling over us. As teachers, doctors, university lecturers, nurses, and more are fighting for a fair wage, maybe if we put royals in a council house, they might start working? Those of us who complain, as Sara Ahmed writes, are called ‘malicious complainers.’ It is deplorable.
Partly working inside the ivory towers of the academy, I have met many scholar-activists who have the political imagination to get things moving but are met with academic gatekeeping. I have great faith in people like Rhianna Garrett (cited earlier), as well as people like Renée Landell (featured in the last essay). Further to those pushing from the outside. Iman Khan, another one of my friends doing a PhD, is a wealth of knowledge in this area. So, as long as there’s activists pushing against unaccountable power – in whatever sector or institution – there is reason to hope.
The origins of trade unionism sit in The Chartists led by William Cuffay, a Mixed Heritage Black Victorian deported to Tasmania for his beliefs. Furthermore, even prior there was The Levellers, who simply wanted to make a level playing field. The Chartists and The Levellers were the groups that came before today’s trade unions. In the Putney Debates 1647, Thomas Rainsboroughstated “’The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he… every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government” – in short arguing for the vote (for men … ick … never said it was perfect). This ended with the execution of Charles I, and Oliver Cromwell rose to power crushing the forces of what today we would associate with the political left.
History rarely repeats itself, but it does rhyme. The legacy of The Chartists and The Levellers endures today. Meanwhile, our schools funnel royal stories into children’s brains, but not the stories of political agitators. If we started telling those stories, like those of The Grunwick Strikes, Matta Fancanta Youth Movement, and British Black Panthers, people would start asking uncomfortable questions about the ruling class. So, as long as we are stuck in monotonous debates about the ‘racial optics’ of looks like me politics, we are not talking about how colonialism never ended. It just shapeshifted to fit a new world.
“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” – Chinua Achebe
In Britain and America today, there is a culture in media criticism (an industry that is largely white) that still does not see Black-lead creative projects as relatable. Stories that are not “Black stories” but simply stories that feature Black people in many ways are not seen as “human” because our stories are not “universal” (apparently). This lineage goes as far back as the 1980s and 1990s where in cinema, unless Black people were playing stereotypes, white producers with greenlight power could not see the appeal.
One of the greatest film critics that ever lived, the late bell hooks, also wrote about whiteness in this myth of universal “sameness” in her book Black Looks. Films like The Secret Life of Bees (2008) adapted from the novel by Sue Monk Kidd is a story about a white girl who is effectively taken in by three Black women beekeepers. Their race is not vital to this story, they are simply three women that happen to be Black.
More recent texts including Attack the Block or even broadway show Hamilton as well the musical Sixtell stories that aren’t “race stories” but stories where some of the lead or supporting characters just happen to be not white, or have used “colour-conscious casting” to tell old stories in new ways. Film scholar, Richard Dyer, further writes that white people “…speak of … the blackness or Chineseness of friends, neighbours, colleagues, customers … but … don’t mention the whiteness of white people we know.” As white people do not experience the racial burden we do because white people are viewed as “unraced.”
For Adjoa Andoh to star in and direct Richard III, this was important for me as throughout my school experience, Shakespeare’s work was positioned as white-only. As it wasn’t until I saw critiques by Black writers when I left school I began to appreciate it. Sheis the latest in a lineage, much to the disconent of some white critics. In my view, I think we need more anti-racist approaches to Shakespeare. Having Black actors at the centre doesn’t make these approaches automatically anti-racist, but it is a step in the right direction.
Whenever I think about the numbers of Black actors that have done Shakespeare, I am brought back to David Oyelowo’s reflections on being the first Black actor to play an English king at the Royal Shakespeare Company [RSC]. The flack he recieved from academics at the time was significant, showing the whiteness and elitism are still centralised in arts.
Following actors like David Harewood in Othello (National Theatre, 1997), Sophie Okonedo as Margaret D’Anjou in screen adaptations of Henry VI and Richard III in The Hollow Crown (BBC, 2015), and Paapa Essiedu in Simon Godwin’s Hamlet (RSC, 2018), Adjoa Andoh is part of a thread. Here, Black actors are in roles “claimed” under the whiteness of the arts establishment – and to embrace this, with Andoh as the only Black character, is to emphasise the whiteness of the England we live in. The othering of England reverberates all around us and this reimagining of Richard III … it left me thinking.
Depictions of Richard in popular media have largely been those that view him as a hunchbacked usurper. In today’s language, they are incredibly ableist – using his reported physical disabilities as a way to emphasise his evilness. In the BBC’s The White Queen, Richard (played by Aneurin Barnard) is also unflattering, whilst Harry Lloyd plays his ghost in The Lost King– a film about the search for his grave which ended up being under a Leicester City carpark. Benedict Cumberbatch also took on the role in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown. In popular media, the screen has done an effective job vilifying him.
However, this new depiction (which was playing at The Rose in Kingston in May) positions Richard as misunderstood – but, by no means innocent! This play is very much explicitly set in a Britain well-acquainted with the othering of human beings. Based on William Shakespeare’s original, written in 1590, well within the years of the beginning of England’s slave-trading exploits starting in 1562 when “adventurer” John Hawkins went ‘gallivanting’ across the Atlantic. The existence of Black Tudors has long been written on – more recently by Miranda Kaufmann and Onyeka Nubia, but there is lineage in print going back to Peter Fryer, Imtiaz Habib, Folarin Shyllon and David Dabydeen too all the way back to the 1980s.
Watching Richard III at The Rose in May, I felt this reimagining was something much needed in the twenty-first century. If it was left up to the Oxford dons, I fear we would still have white actors in blackface playing Othello. Set in the rurality of the Cotswolds, this takes inspiration from Andoh’s upbringing, with her characters’ accents to match!
Attending the Q&A afterwards, we also find out how this play started – a passion project. In the official programme, Andoh talks about being one of the only brown faces growing up in Cotswolds in the 1960s and 1970s. For those of us who grew up in provincial Britain, Andoh’s story is sorely relatable. Whilst Northampton is now diverse (relatively), when I was growing up in the early 2000s it wasn’t as mixed as it is now. Furthermore, going to school in a village and all my friends living in the countryside, I spent a lot of my time out near the meadows and lakes. Andoh’s experiences growing up extend to Richard’s experience othered by his community, described as an investigation of racialised trauma.
Clocking in at nearly three hours in length, this play did test my patience. And with Andoh surrounded by white people, it is clear what aesthetic was intended: one where Black and Brown people are viewed as intruders into the “sameness” of white spaces. The play drags at times but it achieves what it aims to do. Black women having to appease the feelings of white people is a tale as old of time. Its commentary of whiteness and space is incredibly revealing, especially when we are not invited into that space (who space belongs to and who spaces are designed for revisits how whiteness is ultimately about ownership).
With numbers of Black and Brown students in schools, we need anti-racism centralised in the English Literature curriculum. And for white students, they must see depictions of people that are not white too (in short, to decolonise their minds as well). Ambereen Dadabhoy and Nedda Mehdizadeh’s new book Anti-Racist Shakespeareis a must here!
In Richard III, we have a lone Black character surrounded by white people. And eclipsed by two older siblings between Richard and the throne, and others, one must question what one would do achieve power given the right circumstances. It is no secret in the adaptations that he killed his own family to achieve power. However, if he was never embraced by the ‘village’ in the first place, one must ask why / why not?
“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth” – African Proverb.
Born into enslavement on the Caribbean island of Bermuda in 1785, Mary Prince was the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament. She also testified at two libel cases following the publication of her autobiography The History of Mary Prince(published in 1831). In its first year, it sold out three times. Mary Prince, after escaping servitude, became an autobiographer and abolitionist as well as activist. Her autobiography – that details her experiences of enslavement – includes the disabling impact of colonial violence on her body, furthermore to experiences of sexual violence.
On 27th April, I went to watch a dramatisation of her life by Kuumba Nia Arts in collabaration with Unlock the Chains Collective as part of their tour. Showing at Banbury’s Mill, it was written by Amanta Edmead starring Lola May as Mary and other characters. The play also co-starred Angie Amra Anderson who brought an added dimension bringing African songs as a layer to what was being performed on stage.
On the downside, the forced audience particpation was also ableist (hmmm). Aside from that, SOLD is a sound production with the beat of the drum coming with activist connotations juxtaposed to this slave story. Escaped from enslavement, Mary Prince vanishes from the records. But SOLD shows us creative interventions are needed when it comes to history, as Black voices in the archives have long been silenced – so it’s time we put those voices back!
For me, the only issue with The Belgrade’s Big Aunty is that audiences never get to see Big Aunty AKA Vivienne Mavis Taylor. She is the title character who we get to know beyond the grave. With numerous people talking about her death, we then begin to understand her life. Of Jamaica, she was a member of the Windrush Generation – named for the ship that came into Tilbury Docks in June 1948. However, the term ‘Windrush’ was then used to describe successive arrivals from the Caribbean too (up to 1971).
With the major theme of Big Aunty being death and grief in Caribbean communities, I was brought to revisit my own experiences. When I was twenty-one, my auntie died from a terminal illness called Scleroderma. Her funeral was a celebration of life and that she had now joined the ancestors. At this point, we as her family also took part in the African ritual of Nine Night – an extended wake that is practiced in many Caribbean countries (many of my Caribbean colleagues / friends reading this will relate).
Set between Jamaican and England, this show touched me: it reminds me that I am as much a child of England as I am the Caribbean (in my case Grenada and Jamaica). There sits a “double consciousness” of identity and the right to belong. It also showed me how ill-prepared I am for the passing of elder family members as tomorrow is not promised.
Corey Campbell’s play’s made me think about things I had put off, not so much about death but about life. This story walks behind slave ships, watching the dead as visual (un)conscious symbols of colonialism – and how the passing of the Windrush Generation is entangled in the afterlife of slavery. In places like Northampton, the fact we even have a Windrush Generation will become myth if we do not do more to protect this history.
In Big Aunty, there sits an indignation to the silence of whiteness that impacts Black elders – a discrmination that sees many dying early. Campbell shows how the mark of the slave ship still marks Black communities around the world today. Though dead before the play begins, Vivienne Mavis Taylor lays in the ship’s hold as a victim of containment and punishment. In a world where anti-Blackness and white supremacy are situated in a culture of normalised premature Black death, plays like Big Aunty are needed. “Wake work”, as discussed in Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake, can be done through art. Theatre is one site.
This show’s got the talawa, and the word talawa means ‘small but strong’. At only 75 minutes, this is a short play but it packs a punch. With the three central performances from Alexia McIntosh, Keiren Hamilton-Amos, and director Corey Campbell, they are all brilliant to see in action. Yet, Big Aunty shows Caribbean funerals are all alike in celebration: food, dancing, music, sound system. And through the white gaze, how we do things at our funerals may appear different to British funerals. But the point is not to feel sad (though you have every right to and people’s feelings can take them), but to celebrate having lived.
Twenty minutes into Saints home victory over Saracens, just after Moon and Ludlam had crossed the line to score and perhaps three more scoring chances were lost to butterfingers, BT Sport had a touchline chat with one of the visiting coaches.
He was asked to reflect on how well his side were controlling the game. To be fair, he did seem a bit wrongfooted by the question.
A lot of Sarries’ most famous names had been swapped out for this game. Duncan Taylor had been red carded for head contact in a tackle in the seventh minute. The visitors had just gone behind, a situation they would remain in for the rest of the game during which they would concede six tries and 38 points.
The narrative being offered in commentary was ‘how are they going to get this back?’
Every fumble and error by Saints, who did look like two weeks off might be good for their bodies but bad for their execution, was presented as evidence that this side (with a famously bad defensive record) was not top four material.
Now I’m not trying to alter reality here. Just like the players in any game, there is no Saints error that I wished hadn’t happened. But perhaps I am getting a little bit sick of the unconscious snobbery that swirls around the upper echelons of rugby in the coverage and the commentary.
Some of my beef is a product of the fact that the people covering rugby know the most about the most famous teams and the most famous players, so they can say more about them. The worst offenders are those covering international matches but it’s a factor in the mix. Back in the day we would have called it poor journalism.
Player pundits can give really good insights but they are most useful when talking about players and teams they know, which is of course also the most difficult stuff to talk about.
Breezing through some of the social media and national media match reports after the game I was reading dismissive accounts of a match rendered meaningless by a red card and the number of squad players in Sarries line-up. You would have thought Saracens had just sneaked a win in the dying moments rather than finishing two scores behind.
Saints have been in games where we got a battering and nearly clawed our way back, and we didn’t get handed a moral victory by the media afterwards. In the corresponding fixture at Saracens we lost by one score. Well, that’s pretty much a win isn’t it. I’m sure we had a couple of players missing. There were a couple of yellow cards.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t been consistently hovering around the top four at the end of the season for the past few years. Sure, not feeling like we deserved it, feeling like the poor neighbours among rugby’s posher names, believing that we are too much of a nice community club to be a real sexy threat but it was us there, not one of the many teams with a better defensive balance sheet.
Pundits have got to stop wheeling out Saints’ defensive record as if it was conclusive proof of something when by now surely the more interesting question is the fact that it isn’t proof of anything at all.
How are Saints doing so well with that heavy chain of defensive sins strung about their necks? The only way to win a game of rugby is to find enough space between the meat to put the ball where you want it.
Stats from Premiership Rugby
How much difference did Saracens being a man down really make? Obviously it’s an advantage but it doesn’t play out the same way it does in football. To some extent the gap it creates has to be manufactured by the attacking team. Saints still needed to do a lot right to put so many points past Saracens.
Dave Ribbans was awarded Player of the Match for his last home game for Saints but James Ramm and Alex Mitchell put in big big shifts and Courtney Lawes was applauded off the pitch when his turn came.
Ramm runs tricky lines with afterburner acceleration and ensures contact is never neat and tidy for the tackler. He’s fast and abrasive and rarely stopped by just one defender. Hopefully the injury that took him off the field has not ended his season.
There were times in this game when it really did look like Mitchell was motoring, delivering quick ball that was arriving back at the gain line before Sarries were reset.
Saints did plenty right in this game and they couldn’t do anything more in terms of points. Five against Saracens despite the upturned noses in the wider rugby world. I’m not even saying I want the snobbery to stop, but I would like us to harness it for ourselves.
These people don’t think we deserve what we have got through bringing on young talent, buying smart and investing in the community. The snobs don’t look at Northampton and see big news stories about huge transfer payments and salary scandals. They don’t understand us. They think we’re an easy win. It makes me angry. That’s part of our story and we should use it.
The hugely popular adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s story of pensioners seeking a new life in India comes to Royal & Derngate with a star-studded cast.
Based on the Sunday Times bestseller which inspired one of this century’s most treasured films, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel comes to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate this spring, from Tuesday May 9 to Saturday 13, with a cast including Paul Nicholas, Belinda Lang and Tessa Peake-Jones.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes us on a journey to India with an eclectic group of British retirees as they embark on a new life. The luxury residence is far from the opulence they were promised, but as their lives begin to intertwine and they embrace the vibrancy of modern-day India, they are charmed in unexpected and life-changing ways.
The cast includes much-loved comedy actress Belinda Lang (2 Point 4 Children, Oklahoma!), playing Madge, stage and screen star Paul Nicholas (Jesus Christ Superstar, Just Good Friends, EastEnders) as Douglas, Graham Seed, best known for his award-winning long-running performance as Nigel Pargetter in Radio 4’s The Archers, as Norman, Paola Dionisotti (Game of Thrones) as Dorothy and Tessa Peake-Jones (Raquel in Only Fools and Horses) as Evelyn. Nishad More (King Lear, RSC) plays Sonny Kapoor the put-upon owner of the past-its-best hotel for ‘the elderly and beautiful’.
Deborah Moggach has adapted her bestselling 2004 novel These Foolish Things for the stage, it previously having inspired the BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated film. The play is directed by Royal & Derngate favourite Lucy Bailey, who has delighted Northampton audiences with her productions including Gaslight and Love from a Stranger, and who will be back to direct And Then There Were None this autumn.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a joyous, feel-good comedy about taking risks, finding love, and embracing second chances, even in the most surprising of places. It takes to the Derngate stage from Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 May at 7.30pm, with matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets – priced from £13 – can be booked by calling Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.
The Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards is back for its fifteenth year with another sensational set of categories and sponsors.
The Awards are a celebration and recognition of excellence within the Northamptonshire food and drink sector. It is a toast to all that is great about local produce and drink and rewarding those who work so hard to achieve the best within the culinary sector.
The team behind the Awards are delighted to announce eighteen fantastic categories this year, which includes the introduction of a debut category: Event Venue of the year and with that, welcomes a fresh sponsor, the Hilton Garden Inn, Silverstone. New sponsors also joining the competition this year are, Greedy Gordons (Restaurant of the Year), University of Northampton (Food and Drink College Student of the year) and new Associate sponsor, Bedford College.
New sponsor Greedy Gordons Pub Group, winner of Booker Dining Venue for the Snooty Fox at Lowick last year, is now sponsoring Restaurant of the Year. Richard Gordon said ‘we have had huge success over the last five years in this great competition and it’s time to make way for others to take these accolades and all the glory that goes with it. We could not be more thrilled to sponsor this fantastic category and are excited and looking forward to this year’s events.’
Thanks to ongoing support from headline sponsor, Weetabix has committed to another three years with the competition representing the Burton Latimer company’s commitment to the county’s hard working food and drink sector. The breakfast giant will once again be joined by existing category sponsors All things Business, Booker, Daily Bread, Delapre Abbey, Whitco, Heygates Flour and Animal Feed, Howes Percival LLP, Moulton College and Whitworth Bros Ltd Flour Millers.
Stuart Branch, Group People and Technology Director at Weetabix said ‘We’re thrilled and proud to be headline sponsor to the Awards for a fourth year. Being directly involved with the judging process, seeing first-hand the impact these awards can have on local businesses growth and development is an honour. We are proud to see the vast range of venues, producers, chefs, businesses and organisations that these prestigious Awards support and celebrate.
The full details of the latest competition were revealed by Awards Director, Rachel Mallows MBE, at the launch which took placeat Silverstone Circuit, Silver Award Winners of the Healthy Food and Wellbeing Award 2022.
Rachel set off the Awards launch with: “Super close to the country’s iconic starting line, the county’s foods and drink and hospitality sector gets ready to be nominated, entered, judged, and have the chance to win and celebrate their achievements. I want to highlight the Importance of recognition through the Awards, so I start here today thinking about last year, hoping the launch of 2023 is going to be about moving into prosperity after Brexit, Covid and cost of living. We can’t kick off this competition without mentioning the hard work of this sector, the hundreds if not thousands of individuals who work so hard in Food and Drink and in hospitality. We not only nourish ourselves through food and drink consumption, but we also build friendships, we enjoy our family’s and communities through this sector, through our home cooking to eating out. Let’s see what 2023 will bring!’
Rachel also revealed an exciting change to the dining categories. Booker will now sponsor both the Young Chef of the Year and revised category ‘Gastro Pub of the Year’.
This year’s launch also revealed new Awards Patron, David Foskett MBE, member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Craft Guild of Chefs and a fellow of the Institute of Hospitality. He’s also been voted one of the most influential people in the hospitality public sector. The Awards team are very excited to have David on board.
Previous Award winners like John Folliot-Vaughn, Artisan Local Drink, Gold Award winner 2022/23 Stonyfield Wine were able to reflect on their successes of the competition since winning: “You don’t realise until afterwards how much difference it can make to your business.”
Katie Steele from the Towcester Community Larder, who won Gold in the Local Food Hero category last year said: “Our success in the Awards has been fantastic for our profile and making ourselves visible to not just businesses within the community but also to users of our service. Having this acknowledgement that we are open to everyone, and our purpose is about saving food from waste and getting it out to the communities was invaluable.”
The free-to-enter categories in this year’s Awards (with their respective sponsors) are:
Artisan Local Drink of the Year
Artisan Local Product of the Year (Heygates Flour and Animal Feed)
Artisan Local Vegetarian / Vegan Product of the Year (Daily Bread)
Booker Gastro of the Year (Booker)
Booker Young Chef of the Year (Booker)
Community Café of the Year (Supported by The Good Loaf)
Event Venue of the Year (Hilton Garden Inn)
Farming Environment Award (Weetabix Growers Group)
F&B Achiever of the Year (Howes Percival LLP)
Food and Drink College Student of the Year (University of Northampton)
Healthy Food and Wellbeing Award (Delapré Abbey)
Local Food Hero of the Year (Moulton College)
One To Watch (Whitworth Bros. Ltd Flour Millers)
Outstanding Contribution to Food & Drink (All Things Business)
Restaurant of the Year (Greedy Gordons)
Weetabix Sustainability Award (Weetabix)
Whitco Chef of the Year (Whitco)
World Cuisine Restaurant of the Year
The results of the competition, which will again see finalists awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze, will be announced at the Awards celebrations taking place on 1st November 2023 at The Royal & Derngate Theatre, supported again by caterers Portfolio Events.