Sold, which extends the legacy of Mary Prince in shining a light on Britain’s barbaric role in colonial slavery, left its audience stunned on Thursday evening.
During a post-performance Q&A session, some thanked the award-winning cast members and director for including a song at the end of the play giving them time to absorb the horror and process the grief.
The play, which has won five awards – including Best Ensemble Music Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019 – opened the 47th Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts at St Paul AME Church, Hamilton.
Amantha Edmead, writer, performer and storyteller, was a tour de force playing a gamut of characters including the unfolding central character – from sprightly young girl to downtrodden enslaved woman to passionate firebrand.
She also flitted effortlessly between the play’s other characters – a bloodthirsty slave master; a crying baby whose wail was so convincing I checked the room for an infant.
The play skilfully weaves excerpts from Mary Prince’s seminal autobiography The History of Mary Prince , using African griot storytelling techniques that meld theatre, expressive dance, song and drums.
Angie Amra Anderson, a leading African percussionist who has shared the stage with the likes of Fela Kuti, echoed the intricacies of the plot through delicate beats or pounding rhythms. She drifted between the set’s instruments of bondage like a spirit looking out for Mary Prince whose suffering was laid bare.
Born into slavery in 1788 in Brackish Pond, Devonshire in Bermuda, Mary Prince was the property of Bermuda slavers Charles Myners, Old Captain Darrell and Captain John Ingham before being sold to others.
She was the first Black woman to write about her life as a slave and, in 1829, was the first Black woman to present an anti-slavery petition to the British Parliament. Celebrated as a champion of freedom, her book is credited with having a galvanising effect on the abolitionist movement – the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed shortly after its publication.
In one excerpt included in Sold, Ms Prince recalls how a pregnant enslaved woman named Hetty was flogged with such vigour that her baby was born dead, and Hetty soon followed: “Ere long, her body and limbs swelled to a great size; and she lay on a mat in the kitchen, till the water burst out of her body and she died.”
Not all of the atrocities penned in Ms Prince’s book were covered. The tale of an elderly male whose lashings were so brutal and frequent his wounds never healed and maggots writhed in his flesh, wasn’t included on stage.
But the horror was not lost with these omissions.
During the Q&A period, one woman revealed her elders were from the Turks and Caicos Islands where some of the worst conditions were endured by Ms Prince. She wrote in her book that working day and night in the salt ponds resulted in “dreadful boils that eat down, in some cases, to the very bone”.
The woman said the play made her repeatedly question what slavery had been like for her family members.
Sold did have some moments of jubilation – not least during the renditions of plantation songs which audience members joined in with.
The plot of Sold may be challenging to follow for anyone unfamiliar with Mary Prince’s story as it jumps between multiple time periods and locations, so it is worth reading up before attending.
We have never learnt the fate of Mary Prince. Director Euton Daley, who received an MBE in 2008 for his services to the arts and to young people, said they would be conducting research during their stay in Bermuda.
Ms Anderson asked the audience to consider that our present is linked to our past, and said the foundations must be laid for reparations to be made to the families of those who suffered the cruel injustices of slavery.
• Sold concludes tonight at 8pm St Paul AME Church’s Centennial Hall. Tickets are available here: https://bermudafestival.org/