Photo: Sarah Hickson
In thinking about the constructs of what would make up an 'invisible man' George Eggay is everything but, as his endearing and vivid performance punched through to the audience on a Sunday night in Shoreditch.
Not to be confused with the science fiction H.G Wells novella of the same name, this 'Invisible Man' is based on the novel by Ralph Ellison published in 1952. Like many other great stories, this one has timely and relevant content that reflects back identity, class and race issues like a mirror.
Told through the protagonist's first person narration, we are fully let into a world which we learn is only shared with a houseplant (in this interpretation we find out that the houseplant in this adaptation was making its final appearance in trilogy of plays directed by Paul Anthony Morris) and a phonograph on which the narrator listens to his favourite Louis Armstrong music . An open basement room with tons of electric lights is where this invisible man resides and from where the story is told.
Eggay manages to draw respect in the first instance for his superb southern accent. This is something that can be overlooked as a talking point but a key feature to being believable and allowing the audience to feel they are in good hands.
In the second instance he is an engaging performer, which allows a readiness from the listeners for the story to be told.
Staying true to the prologue, the story begins with the narrator recounting his 'bumping into a tall-blonde man' and the blonde man calling him an insulting name. With no apology, the narrator kicks the blonde man to the ground, soon learning he was insulted because the blonde man 'couldn't really see him.' In reading the newspaper the next day, the narrator reads this event as a 'mugging.' The debate begins...how can one be mugged by a man that he couldn't even see?
Iconic moments are played out from this basement, from a church ensemble in which important questions about true freedom are raised, to a drug induced marijuana trip whilst listening to Louis, accompanied by an overwhelmingly brilliant score from the musicians and music director Byron Wallen.
The ensemble performances as chorus members and dancers were executed well and only performed when necessary meaning there was no 'style over substance' here.
The director tackled the contemporary issues in this story head on, by using footage of Obama and Trump's comparative presidential media tales in the production. Cut together to show progression and regression, a man who is seen, and a man who is as blind as the people the narrator describes in this performance actually left me feeling scared. Scared because it was yet another reminder of the reality we face and had to return to outside the theatre, but also because the quote above my old history room at secondary school 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it' remained branded on my mind.
I applaud Certain Blacks for programming this show and treating it with the utmost respect in its retelling. It was well received and the audience were left to only wanting more, but also with a deep understanding of its necessity in today's climate.