Review: Salt, Northern Stage at Summerhall

Birmingham-based twenty-seven- year-old Selina Thompson brings her most recent production Salt. to Summerhall at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

At the heart of her work is a focus on the politics of identity, which is explored in a playful and intimate environment. One’s body, life and surroundings are then measured within this aesthetic and brought to the stage to be shared with her audiences.

Salt. captures the journey made by two artists in February 2016 as they retrace one of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle. Together and apart, they travel by cargo ship from Europe to Africa, to the Americas and back again. Questions, grief and memories travel in time to explode into the present, bringing this immense piece of history into the fore. Salt. is an antidote for trauma, and a tale of hope to accompany the future – a performance to heal wounds unseen.

Thompson stands at a chestnut desk, two rocks of Himalayan pink salt at her feet. A sledgehammer is stashed at calve height, and a glass water bottle and a mortar and pestle nudges each elbow. The triangular route shines against a black curtain, making radiant a stool surrounded by pot plants and a microphone enveloped by a rotting wreath.

In a long white gown, Thompson is stunning. Her voice melts into the air like the incense burning at her side and sails into the lungs of her audience, filling them with her beautiful and intelligent script. Poisonous episodes of racism push against her core; black pain, black rage and black deaths sicken and devastate, and so she projects the images of bigoted people or companies onto her rocks of salt and smashes into them. The sledgehammer falls, crushing its target to dust, and sodium flows underfoot.

Beads of sweat form on her forehead as crystals are ground, the suffering in her DNA becoming soft and sand-like. More bearable and easier to consume, her history and present collide in a tumult of powerful images, inhaled heavily and exhaled gratefully. The dusk within the theatre stings the eyes with sleep and tickles a yawn at the back of the throat as Thompson struggles to find comfort, looking for a place to place her grief. This lack of light both adds and detracts from the sense of well-being, supporting her natural tone and ease onstage, and instilling a distancing hypnotic weight within the audience.

To end, Thompson folds the blanket of her narrative neatly, and tucks it safely within herself. This painful and palpable journey to discover her place in the diaspora will jerk tears from their ducts and ravish the ancestry of every sense, leaving the taste of salt singing in the mouth.

Salt. is playing at the Northern Stage at Summerhall until August 26. For more information and tickets, see www.tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/salt

Josephine Balfour-Oatts

Josephine Balfour-Oatts

Josephine graduated from The University of Bristol with a BA(Hons) in Drama in 2016. Currently based in London, she is a keen writer with an interest in Experimental Theatre. You can spot her in any audience by her colourful glasses chains and energetic biro.