Reviews, News and Commentary

Auckland Arts Festival Online “Lament for Sheku Bayoh”

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Lament for Sheku Bayoh by Hannah Lavery

Online at

Until March 27

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 3 May 2015, thirty-one-year-old Sheku Bayoh set out to walk home from his friend’s place after watching a boxing match. Just hours later, he had lost his life when police attacked and asphyxiated him  on the streets of his hometown – Kirkcaldy, Fife.

Lament for Sheku Bayoh adapted and directed by Hannah Lavery from her book attempts to examine and explain the tragic event. While expressing the grief and the effects on the family it also looks at the endemic racism which exists in Scotland.

It questions the notion of Scotland as  a liberal and welcoming country and whether this liberalism is only a veneer.

The work was originally commissioned by the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh and filmed on stage at the Royal Lyceum Theatre as part of 2019 Edinburgh International Festival.

The work is structured like  a traditional Greek drama with all the action happening offstage  and the three fates represented by Saskia Ashdown, Patricia Panther and Courtney Stoddart commenting on the action and the ethical nature of the events and of the characters.

The lone guitarist, Beldina Odenyo acts as the chorus who opens the play with a gospel-style version of  Roberts  Burns’s “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” .

Much of the play uses the words from accounts by eyewitnesses and the police testimony along with comments made by news media. These lines are repeated in an almost poetic manner over and over like a refrain.

“I heard the man shout to get the police off him and they never moved”

“The BBC understands… The BBC understands”

Mr Bayoh’s muscles were bulging, He wasn’t listening to commands and he looked intimidating and he looked aggressive”

“Move along”

“Textbook training”

“Appropriate action”

There is also a repeated reference to the thirty seconds that it took for Bayoh to die once he had been wrestled to the ground and that thirty seconds is counted down in the final moments of the play.

The stage is in shadows and the three actors move through the dark brooding space articulating the poetic expression of grief for the individual behind the headlines which mirrors the tragic events behind the death of George Floyd  2020 death in America. The three actors switch skilfully from impassioned, expression to forensic detailing of events creating an ominous and threatening atmosphere

Bayoh’s family launched a campaign seeking justice and a statutory public inquiry was established in 2019 to determine the manner of his death, and whether ‘actual or perceived race’ had played a part in it. The inquiry which has been delayed several times will not actually begin until later this year.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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