Master Juba

Norwich Playhouse

Norwich Playhouse

“I'm not a victim, I'm young, gifted and black” is the proud opening of a statement of one man's assertiveness.

Pressing a number of buttons, this show launches Theatre Is…, a new venture producing quality theatre in East Anglia.

Hard on the heels of Black History Month, it takes the true tale of a young black dancer, William Henry Lane from freed slave background, who danced before Queen Victoria at the Palladium.

It is also the story of artistic exploitation foiled and adversity defeated - all told with panache.

Fusing black dance rhythms with Irish folk, Lane's contribution to dance - “the perpendicular expression of horizontal desire” - was tap.

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Call and response dance steps from the lively ensemble punctuate body rhythms, poems and narrative in a cross between docudrama and theatre in education.

Computer images of changing scenes are a powerful extra feature, as is electro music from traditional melodies all supporting the view that showbiz is a mystery of complexities.

Sprinkled with humorous moments, such as the Ku Klux Klan who lost their hanging rope, the real strength is the study of the relationships between black hero and white mentor and separately with the showman's wife.

Sensitive sketching of the characters brings to life historic racial prejudices and mutual fears. It's a night of history, yet it's topical.

It's fact, yet it's showbiz.

David Porter

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