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Interview: Israel Oyelumade, Star of Anti-Slavery Production 'African Snow'

( [email protected] ) May 07, 2007 07:15 AM EDT
Israel Oyelumade is currently starring as Olaudah Equiano, the freed African slave who became one of the leading black figures in ...
Israel Oyelumade puts in a powerful performance as Olaudah Equiano, the freed African slave who becomes one of the leading black figures in the movement to abolish the slave trade, in the new production from Riding Lights Theatre Company and York Theatre

Israel Oyelumade is currently starring as Olaudah Equiano, the freed African slave who became one of the leading black figures in the movement to abolish the slave trade, in the theatre production of African Snow.

The play is a first-time collaboration between Riding Lights Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal and is about to wrap up its London West End leg of a nationwide tour before it continues on to Wales.

In it, Equiano comes face to face with John Newton, the slave trader who struggles throughout the production to come to terms with his life of debauchery and trading in African flesh before he makes a dramatic conversion to Christianity and eventually joins the campaign to bring an end to the slave trade.

Although there is no historical proof that the two men met, it is highly probable that they did come face to face with one another at some point as they both moved within the same abolitionist circles.

The play throws up a number of questions about justice, repentance and forgiveness and challenges the audience to think more deeply about not only Britain’s role in the slave trade but also about what can be done today to ensure that modern forms of slavery like sex trafficking and child labour, are also eradicated from the world.

Theatre critics have hailed Oyelumade’s powerful performance as Equiano and the production has repeatedly performed before packed out theatres during its tour.

Christian Today caught up with Oyelumade to find out more bringing Equiano and the history of the slave trade to life on stage.

CT: Olaudah Equiano was one of the most important black figures in the movement to abolish the slave trade. Did you feel under pressure to get your portrayal of him right?

IO: Not so much pressure but as an actor and as a Christian I wanted to put something across that was very real but very truthful because he was an amazing man and you want him to be remembered as the great man that he was because there was so much about him. He was a real man of passion, a man that wanted truth.

It’s just so remarkable to be robbed from his native land at the age of nine or 10, to go through the middle passage, and to have something in him that just kept him going forward.