“If you know what’s going on and you don’t do anything about it, you’re a punk,” says legendary Black Panther Assata Shakur in this devastating new one-woman play about the African American experience across the decades.

Wide-eyed student Ambrosia moves to St Louis for college just as the Black Lives Matter campaign is kicking off in Ferguson, prompted by the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Her dentist father warns her not to get involved, but charming fellow student Trey convinces her to go to a rally, where she comes face to face with the systematic racism of the US legal system.

In the 1970s, JoAnne Byron moves to New York and finds a new community of activists and proud African Americans, as well as blatant inequality and racist colleagues. She changes her name to Assata and joins the Black Panthers, who she sees as freedom fighters, and eventually becomes the most wanted woman in America.

The stories of these two women becoming ‘woke’, or aware of the reality of their situations and of those around them, are intercut with powerful performances of soul, gospel and African music by writer and performer Apphia Campbell. She switches deftly from Ambrosia’s sweet and innocent faith to Assata’s world-weary exhaustion, making each character distinct and fascinating.

Campbell’s passion for the material was clear from the tears running down her face after one particularly heartbreaking song, and the audience responded with a standing ovation. A subject that could seem distant and opaque to an Edinburgh crowd was instead brought clearly and meaningfully into the light. One can only hope that over the course of the festival, many more people will find themselves woke thanks to Campbell’s play.

Words: Caroline Whitham

Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Woke, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Aug 10-28, 2pm

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