Glasgow-based, writer May Sumbwanyambe’s Enough of Him is the first in a series of planned works based on the historical experiences of Black people in Scotland.
This first work is based on the life of Joseph Knight, a young Guinean man brought to Jamaica and enslaved to Sir John Wedderburn on the Ballendean Estate near Inchture in Perthshire. A young man who was, to a degree, successful in arguing that Scot’s Law could not support the status of slavery. After being inspired by the Somerset v Stewart case in 1772, Knight seeks his own freedom, culminating in his own legal battles in the 1770s.
Sumbwanyambe’s work deals less with the historically significant legal case and the cause of Abolitionism, rather the personal relationship between Knight and Wedderburn.
Played out in front of a backdrop of Alexander Nasmyth’s Landscape, Loch Katrine, atmospherically lit by Emma Jones (it breathes Jamaican fire and dreich Scottish skies in equal measure) and to an unsettling soundtrack from composer John Pfumojena, there is a discomfort that pervades the whole work, a claustrophobia and unease.
Regardless of how often Wedderburn proclaims, “my boy”, “my Joseph”, or invites Knight to dine at his table much to the chagrin of the lady of the manor, plays chess with him or discusses Plato, it is abundantly clear who is master and who is most definitely servant.
Matthew Pidgeon is flesh-crawlingly abhorrent as Wedderburn, both in his dealings with Knight and in his intimacy issues with his desperate wife (Rachael-Rose McLaren). Catriona Faint delivers a tower of strength performance as servant Annie, the object of Knight’s affection and his future wife. Crucial to the play’s success is Omar Austin’s central performance as Knight. He exudes a quiet power and dignity throughout despite walking the tightrope of his mercurial master’s emotions on a daily basis.
By no means a comfortable watch. It thrusts a mirror in our faces: on the surface there may seem to be plenty to pat ourselves on the back about Scotland’s seemingly enlightened attitude towards slavery in the 18th Century (and this triumph in the law courts) but the reality was far, far murkier.
An enlightening, unsettling, uncomfortable but masterfully written play from Sumbwanyambe. There is much to look forward to if promised works on Robert Wedderburn, James McCune Smith, Frederick Douglass, Ira Aldridge and Tom Johnson are produced.
Continues on tour to Cumbernauld, Musselburgh, and Perth.
Images: Sally Jubb