Woke is the story of Ambrosia Rollins, a young African American woman who goes to attend college in St Louis the week that 17-year-old Mike Brown was shot and killed by white officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis. This solo performance by the luminous Apphia Campbell weaves together the events in Ferguson as viewed by the naïve Ambrosia and the story of the now-notorious Black Panther Assata Shakur who was convicted for the killing of a New Jersey State Trooper in 1977.
Set to a hair tingling gospel and blues soundtrack, the links between the two women coming to understand racism in America and how it impacts them, their communities and all black people is drawn out.
Campbell has an absolutely stunning voice and from the start she pulls you in – you just want to listen. Her ability in switching roles from Ambrosia, to her father who trusts the police, to a fellow college goer who encourages her to see the racism of the system and Assata herself, is astounding. All of them come to life in front of us.
Like Assata before her, Ambrosia is not ‘woke’. She does not see why everything has to be about confrontation or colour, and particularly does not understand the racist police. The words ‘All Lives Matter’ issue from her lips in a particularly painful beginning to her journey that sees her face the reality of the injustice system.
Campbell’s performance on a sparse stage is energetic and yet controlled. She is present and absolute in her devotion to a first hand examination of how America has dealt with its ‘race problem’. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t.
With the recent events in Charlottesville, that saw armed white supremacists descend on a college campus and kill one antifa protester, the show may seem ‘timely’. Truth is, it’s been a long time coming. It always has been.
Woke runs at Gilded Balloon Teviot until 28th August, 14:00.