Despite still feeling a bit under the weather, I headed over to Stratford Circus this evening to see Call Mr Robeson, the excellent Tayo Aluko's one-man tribute to the black American actor and singer.
I'm really glad that I made it - it was a wonderful performance, one firmly rooted in Robeson's socialist politics that began with his contact with Welsh coal miners in the late 1920s, whom he met whilst performing Showboat in London. His involvement with trade unions in Britain led to solidarity with the Republican cause in Spain, trips to Russia and staunch (and largely uncritical) support for the Soviet Union, the basis for his eventual persecution by the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the late 1940s.
Robeson was prevented from travelling, his passport taken from him and he found it increasingly difficult to record or perform. In an act of defiance that was typical of his refusal to compromise, he sang at a union-organised concert on the American side of the U.S.-Canada border to a 20,000 strong Canadian audience. After six years, Robeson was finally allowed to return to the UK and to travel extensively around the world, before ill health led to his return to the US.
Tayo Aluko's performance of a artist who always took sides, an activist who preceded the civil rights movement of the 1960s but outlived both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (who had asked to meet Robeson shortly before his assassination), captures wonderfully the personality and history of a pioneering black socialist and musician whose achievements only really began to be celebrated after Robeson's death in 1976.
There's only one more show in London, this Friday at the Greenwich Theatre, before it heads to the States. It's well worth checking out.