Brutal and breath-taking are the only real ways to describe Selina Thompson’s haunting one woman show. salt. details her own journey retracing the route of the transatlantic slave trade from Britain to Ghana, Jamaica and finally, Carolina. Thompson recounts the experience with passion, grief, anger and humour, explaining her choice to take the journey as a mark of remembrance to the many black men, women and children before her who weren’t given that choice – or any choice at all really.
“The streets of Europe are awash with blood,” she tells us, going on to speak of the casual racism she encounters at the hands of the crew on-board the boat to Ghana, and those at home who push the Birmingham born performer to answer “but where are you really from?”. The wealth of Europe was built upon the backs of those black men and women, herded across the Atlantic with chains and whips and Thompson forces her audience to acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that attitudes have changed relatively little in the time since. In an era when the leader of the free world can turn a blind eye to white supremacist neo-Nazis demonstrating in his own country, her argument is pretty plain to see.
The front most members of the audience are asked to wear safety goggles whilst Thompson, armed with a sledgehammer, attacks large rocks of Himalayan pink salt in her anger and grief. Her passion and rage rises to a deafening crescendo at times, and is then broken with a feather light touch of hope and humour shown in the characterisation of her father and the conversational way in which she draws the audience in. Thompson is a performer who mimics the very movement of the waves she so poetically takes her writing inspiration from.
And as she describes standing amongst those waves, we are complicit in her grief for those who travelled the route before her and never got to tell the tale. As Thompson herself puts it, she is “the descendent of those who were never meant to survive”. But they did, even if only in the piece of salt she gives each audience member as a reminder to never forget.
Words: Emily Hay
Picture: Richard Davenport
Salt., Summerhall, Aug 5-26 (not 9, 16, 23), 2.30pm