Hit play Black Men Walking retraces its steps to Sheffield theatre

A story that traces 2,000 years of black people walking the British countryside is returning to the stage in Sheffield, the city where its journey began.

Sunday, 6th October 2019, 24:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 15:22 pm
Black Men Walking tour From left, Patrick Regus, Ben Onwukwe, and Tonderai Munyevu. Picture by Ellie Kurttz

Black Men Walking, which is based on a real Sheffield walking group that heads regularly into the Peak District, was written by rapper Testament for Sheffield-based Eclipse Theatre.

The show’s director, Dawn Walton, who also had the original idea for the play, was until recently the artistic director of Eclipse, which is recognised as a leading black British theatre company.

The show, which is at the Crucible Studio from October 14 to 19, intertwines the story of the walking group and a young woman they encounter on a walk with the long history of black people coming to and settling in Britain.

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Actor Tonderai Munyevu was part of the original cast of the show, which is now on its second national tour.

Tonderai said: “Myself and Dorcas (Sebuyange) have returned. The other two actors were busy doing other projects.

“It's fascinating because I’ve created a role and been on the road with it.

“We were very successful the first time round and experienced what it’s like to perform to different audiences to see what’s universally liked about the role.”

Tonderai plays Richard, a southerner living in the North whose father has just died in his homeland of Ghana.

He comes on the walk to avoid dealing with his conflicting feelings about their relationship.

He said: “The response is always a profound gratitude from most people that they're being made aware of the story that is centred in the North about the history of black people and black history and historical mysticism.

“It’s an exciting thing for people, a wonderful combination of something more common in the North – walking in the countryside – being presented on stage, married with this idea of the narrative of black people that the characters reflect,” continued Tonderai.

“It’s very intoxicating for people and of course we have the music, inspired by this idea of time and things that have been hidden and kept within the land.”

He added: “As a performer I’m aware that I’m involved in something that is unique. I do a lot of Shakespeare and a lot of new writing. I think the audiences are very lucky to have this kind of play.”

Tonderai said they were getting a great response from audiences, including other groups of black walkers who were thrilled to see something that connected to their lives so closely being portrayed on stage.

He said: “The girl in the play isn’t walking, she’s meditating on the moors. She’s surprised that black men walk.

“I’m African and we walk a lot. There’s something about covering ground that is something quite spiritual. A connection to the land is vital to a human being.”

Strangely, being involved in a national tour is relaxing to Tonderai.

He co-founded theatre company Two Gents Productions and also writes shows. “You’re showing up and haven’ t raised the money, you haven ’t discussed the poster with 20 people and haven’t had rejection after rejection about the production. It’s like an amazing holiday!”

*Crucible box office: www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk. National tour details: eclipsetheatre.org.uk