Assata Taught Me, Kalungi Ssebandeke’s first full length play, is an impactful 90 minutes of pure drama. Imagining the limited lifestyle of former Black Panther Assata Shakur, living in Cuba and her relationship with a young black Cuban man Fanuco, the play looks at race and persecution in the United States across decades and generations.
When twenty-one year-old Fanuco meets American Assata, he pleads with her to teach him English so that he can move to Miami and work for his Uncle’s law firm. Adamantly against the idea at first, Assata is brought around by his energy and passion, seeing in him the possibility for kinship, both as a person of African heritage and as a fellow revolutionary. However, when life’s inevitable events occur, the pair are thrown together as the only support the other has. The once bouncing and wonderfully cheeky Fanuco becomes intensely vulnerable, and grows from a boy into a man within the short window of his life we see. This is testament both to the quality of the writing and to Kenneth Omole’s vibrant and incredibly mature performance – he’s definitely one to watch.
Adjoa Andoh gives a captivating performance, showing Assata’s strength and enduring belief in her goals, but also playing the broken woman with such considered understanding. We see her crumble after the death of a loved one and have complete sympathy with her cause by the end of the play. Her depiction of contemporary America with ‘murderers on the police payroll’, as well as its intolerable history with regard to the treatment of the black community, packs a punch because it is all too real. With ‘political’ theatre being produced left, right and centre in London, it is rare to come across a piece that tackles such issues with such nuance and intelligence, and one which isn’t so overtly ‘political’ that it is patronising to its audience.
In the Gate’s intimate seventy-five seat space, this play really is a hidden gem. Frankie Bradshaw’s design is utterly transformative, with detailed Cuban floor tiles and weathered wooden panels, allowing the audience to be transported into the tiny world of Assata’s front room, whilst being exposed to the huge world that exists outside it. The Gate’s mission of producing ‘epic theatre that tackles big ideas of global concern’ is certainly satisfied by Ssebandeke’s play, and I can’t wait to see both what’s next for the Writer and what’s next at the Gate.
Assata Taught Me runs at the Gate Theatre until 27th May at 7:30pm, with 3pm matinées on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tickets are £20 and can be purchased online at www.gatetheatre.co.uk/events/all-productions/assata_taught_me or via the Box Office on 02072290760.
Assata – Adjoa Andoh
Fanuco – Kenneth Omole
Director – Lynette Linton
Designer – Frankie Bradshaw
Lighting Designer – Jack Weir
Sound Designer – Richard Hammarton
Production Manager – Heather Doole
Fight Director – Yarit Dor
Assistant Director – Milli Bhatia
Design Assistant – Jamie Simmons
Vocal Coach – Joel Trill