Grappling with ideas and themes that stretch across oceans, salt. is the latest outing by brilliant performance artist Selina Thompson. A solo show that charts Thompson’s own journey from Europe to Africa to Jamaica and back, it’s a raw and moving hour that strikes a chord. I’m part of the three foremost rows which are compelled to wear safety goggles whenever Thompson does, which does add a degree of excitement. Particularly for those of us closest to the front, we are part of the way Thompson physically uncases the messy, deep-rooted legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
And when Thompson starts breaking apart a massive chunk of rock salt with a hammer, it really is – well – smashing. It’s a stunning few minutes, one of the highlights of the show, where Thompson demonstrates the effects of powerful institutions that benefit from colonialism on the individual. It’s exhausting, poetic, and highly emotive, encapsulating through visual metaphor not only her difficult journey to retrace the Transatlantic Slave Triangle, but also the quotidian existence of the slave trade in the present day.
If this all sounds a little heavy or historical, be assured that Thompson’s show is both personal and told with a real lightness of spirit. She is a wonderful performer to watch, confident with her audience and unafraid to let the humour of her anecdotes and journeys shine through. The attempt to grieve for slaves lost hundreds of years ago is told through Thompson’s distinctly personal lens, making salt.’s emotional impact double.
But salt. is at its best when Thompson demonstrates instead of flat-out telling, when her interwoven themes of lost history and grief are allowed to intermix without the explicit connections needing to be pointed out. The use of projection, too, is the tiniest bit confusing – the first clip shown feels totally important and relevant, the second a bit distracting. But salt. is such an intelligent, critically informed piece that this is just a small bump along the powerful journey Thompson relives on stage.
At once complex and accessible, important yet endearing, salt. is an impressively charted odyssey across oceans, assuredly reminding us of the slave trade’s legacy without every alienating its audience. Thompson’s performance and show are beautifully realised – but if you want to see it, get down to Summerhall quickly, as it’s almost completely sold out. And rightly so.