Samuel Takes a Break....In Male Dungeon No.5 After a Long But Generally Successful Day of Tours

A stone’s throw away from Stratford, Westfield Shopping Centre and short walk to Olympic Park is the Yard Theatre – Hackney. A non-profit, community theatre, supporting local audiences in and around East London. Unlike other theatres, Yard reimagines, crosses genres, explores stories and stages different versions of what life can be. The result, something truly unique, interesting and imaginative not like anything you have seen before.  

Rhianna Ilube is a playwright and curator from London. Samuel Takes a Break is her debut play, shortlisted for Women’s Prize for Playwriting and commended for Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award. Rhianna IIube’s fearless production is a genre-blending play, about colonialism, identity, and the attempt to preserve the past.

It is 2019, the Year of Return, marking four hundred years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in America. The play is set in Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle, where Ghanaians were held before being loaded into ships and sent across the Atlantic. Samuel (Fode Simbo) is our tour guide, tasked with giving tourists an authentic experience of the castle’s dark history. Alongside Orange (Bola Akeju), a, level-headed ticket officer, less troubled by the history, early twenties and aspiring to be a tour guide herself.  

As the audience enter the intimate 130-seater studio, the production begins. Passing through the ticket booth, we encounter Orange. Reading a magazine, waiting for visitors to enter the Castle. The production accurately portrays the castle courtyard, with scenes performed centre stage. Except for a few, where the audience are guided on a journey around the castle, through the condemned chamber, male dungeon, Governor’s Room and of course, male dungeon number 5. Milla Clarke (Set and Costume Designer) is an award-winning stage designer, with a great deal of experience in design and staging productions around the UK. This is evident with Samuel Takes a Break, alongside Director and Deputy Artistic Director at the Yard Theatre, Anthony Simpson-Pike. The pair beautifully portray the shockingly dark horror surrounding the castle’s history, while skilfully demonstrating an accurate representation of conditions, despite the small space available.

As the production continues, we are introduced to Tori Allen-Martin and Stefan Asante-Boateng, both multi-rolling throughout the show. Brilliantly capturing the essence of senseless, tactless and often inconsiderate tourists throughout the different tours. Particularly the later half where the pair play a Jamaican-British couple, desperate for a connection with their ancestors. Both combine throughout the production to masterfully connect with the audience, with compelling storytelling with deep empathy as the history is revealed and family connections are identified.

As the tours continue, useless tourists infuriate Samuel, from endless questions to an Instagram influencer, all is getting too much for him. Fido Simbo’s performance as Samuel is nothing short of extraordinary. A cheerful, excited and respectable tour guide to begin with, before we witness a gradual breakdown throughout the show. Bola Akeju offers an exquisite comedic performance as Orange, often thinking there is more to life outside the castle walls, and thinking that Samuel needs to get a "goddam life". The pair seamlessly draw the audience in with fast-past narrative.  

Samuel Takes a Break debuts at Yard Theatre, Hackney for a limited time. Intense, hilarious and powerful. The production offers a fearless look into the dark history surrounding Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle and the history surrounding it.

The show was reviewed on Thursday 15th February. Samuel Takes a Break runs at Yard Theatre, Hackney until Saturday 23rd March 2024.  Tickets available here: SAMUEL TAKES A BREAK ...IN MALE DUNGEON NO. 5 AFTER A LONG BUT GENERALLY SUCCESSFUL DAY OF TOURS | The Yard Theatre

Review written by Stuart Midwinter

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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