Review Underground Railroad Game, Soho Theatre by Tanica Psalmist

Underground Railroad Game created and performed by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard, contains cathartic elements of sexual chemistry, physical attraction and subjective teachings on the history of the American civil war, which was played by two casts throughout the entire play. These two casts interchangeably would switch their roles; black women playing a slave owner and a white male playing a Southern farmer in the 19th century. Who desperately wanted to help this woman he knew, situated in the racist Deep South, escape across the river where she’d be safer, this was shown during the beginning of the play. We witnessed how their intimate relationship grew during various sequences based on this element.

We then saw these casts transition in to the roles of high school teachers after a dress change. They were very immersive, smartly engaging the audience as their pupils at Hanover Middle school, in Pennsylvania. The class sessions they held as teachers were about the project we are about to conduct on the American Civil war that raged through Hanover in the summer of 1863.

Soldiers were smartly addressed throughout the play to help the audience follow the conclusion of the two sided story of the 19th century characters. Different coloured toy soldiers of grey and blue were found underneath the chairs of the audience members, which represented the follow through in the sequences to the overview of the slaves escape from the safe-house ending either fatally, tragically or mysteriously happily.

Interestingly, the teacher’s love affair became guilt and pleasure when they made hysterically funny, direct stereotypical race jokes, whilst touching on sexual innuendo jokes at the same time to one other. This made watching their love affair funny and intriguing.

When they transitioned back into the sequence within the 19th century, the scene was focused on explicit scenes between the slave and the white farmer’s historic intimacy, displaying the sexual image of nursemaids with their white masters. In reverse to this, arose sexual tension with the teachers through domination and humiliation.

Toxic energy kicked off further when a naughty student cheekily in the class wrote ‘niggerlover’ bold and clear, crossing out the word safe-house on a white board.

When the teachers saw this, you couldn’t hear a pin drop in the air. The open space became a playground of hate as the women began fighting with him, whilst he’s restraining her it further angered her; resulting in them aggressively trashing the set, discovering their fate. The effects of the mental state due a controversial political culture became transparent during this stage.

The male teacher in this situation instinctively felt he had to prove his feelings, which left the women re-opening her scars. The pain of her history psychologically made her sexual tension towards the guy sadomasochistic; it left us to question the impact of modern America and the world in its entirety from slavery and its left residue.

The sexual outburst in how the male teacher responded to sadism, triggered thoughts on whether the male teacher erotically expressing his love for her was genuine and sincere; or if his love was out of curiosity to satisfy his fantasy from how the black woman appears. This incident brought their love affair to an end, leaving their feelings hanging in the air. You really got a deeper sense of the systems role on the abolishment of slavery and the psychological scars left behind in this current generation, especially having the election from Obama to Trump in modern day America.

A powerful production!

Underground Railroad Game at Soho Theatre until Sat 13th October.

Tanica Psalmist.

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