Review: Tales from the Front Line 1-4

The six-part web series from major Black theatre company Talawa will release its final episodes in April, and it feels an appropriate time to review the first four.

It features Black key workers expanding on how they are coping with the pandemic: Talawa carried out a number of interviews which were then shaped into a monologue for an actor. These are timely, hard-hitting, and dynamic pieces with strong central themes.

In these powerful and honest pieces, we meet a teacher, an NHS mental health worker, a railway worker, and a supermarket assistant. They reflect on perception, the pandemic itself, and a wider perspective on being Black and British.

Screencaps from Tales from the Front Line

In the teacher’s empty classroom, we hear about the government dragging their feet, of children feeling vulnerable, of world events. Jo Martin gives a measured and strong performance under Michael Buffong’s direction, while a series of sequences showcasing the movement of FUBINATION (Rhys Dennis and Waddah Sinada) give a dreamlike quality to events being discussed.

The mental health worker (a thoughtful Sapphire Joy) performs both directly and in voiceover, and touches on both the weekly “clap for carers’ (“by the fourth [time] it was getting on my nerves”), and a generic, unfounded “fear of Black people”. Directed by Kwame Asiedu, this covers a lot of ground including the PPE shortage, and issues around the rise of Covid.

Kwame Bentil plays a railway worker in the third instalment, with a sense of both frustration and friendliness. He’s “as British as anyone”, but people still make assumptions about him. As the pandemic kicks in, he laments he can no longer help people as closely, and worries about his vulnerable father at home. This is directed by David Gilbert.

Screencaps from Tales from the Front Line

The fourth film highlights the supermarket worker, who notes customers can be rude and entitled, but that they have started to appreciate key workers more. A section about the quietness of public transport on heading to shift, but the eerie night-time underscores our lack of freedom this past year. Ann Akin conveys the ennui and lethargy of someone simply “doing their job”. Tbis film is directed by Jessica Mensah.

You can access Tales from the Front Line at http://www.talawa.com/productions/tales-from-the-front-line.

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