Review: Scenes for Survival- Joseph Knight, National Theatre Of Scotland

A few years ago multi-talented and award-winning playwright May Sumbwanyambe was commissioned to write a play. The play, titled Enough of Him, would tell the remarkable true story of Joseph Knight and how the young, black African man moved towards justice, playing a crucial role in the abolition of slavery, after being brought to Scotland to serve at a Perthshire manor. Mysterious, educational and historical, Enough of Him, was due to premier at Pitlochry Festival Theatre in October 2020, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland. Although this plan has been halted, the story will be told.

There is no finer platform than the arts to tell the stories that we need to hear. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, the world is yearning for the stories of slavery and injustice that have been missing from our education, to move into a fairer and brighter future. As the newest addition to the Scenes for Survival collection, the National Theatre of Scotland deliver the goods with Joseph Knight, featuring a short excerpt from the much-anticipated play. 

This scene could easily function as a trailer, an alluring yet artistically developed trailer. The two characters of Joseph Knight and his sweetheart Annie Thompson are filmed from above, as they lie idyllically on the grass. Using the sea as a reference point of unity, Joseph encourages Annie to delve into her imagination, offering a glimpse into his experience. Although they appear to be lying side by side (credit to Seth Hardwick’s editing and Justin Audibert’s directing) they live in two very different worlds, with two very different perspectives.

Mirren Wilson – a sketch inspired by the piece
Mirren Wilson – a sketch inspired by the piece

Opening with aesthetic yet symbolic images of the waves of the sea, we think of movement and its many connotations, but in this sense, of a journey once made. Underscored throughout, Pippa Murphy’s composition is arresting and transportive, moving with the text to pitch the tone of the moment. 

Patrick Martins gives a stellar performance that is emotive and loaded with subtext, whilst Emma King balances his inner-darkness with naivety and hope – it’s a sublime partnership. Martin’s voice glides across the text so lyrically, and the intimacy we experience as a viewer is a rare treat that we would never get in a theatre space.

In a loaded and powerful moment, after hearing Joseph’s beautiful description of the sea, Annie innocently remarks

“I wish I’d see half the things you’ve seen.”

“No, you don’t.” replies Joseph, under his breathe. It is heart-stopping.

Joseph Knight feels like a piece in motion, alive in every image and in harmony with every technical element, a story that begs to continue. Even in this snippet, Sumbwanyambe’s text is engaging and descriptive so it’s undoubtedly quite a thrill to know that there’s still an entire play, waiting in the wings for an audience. The time will come, so let’s look forward to that.

Joseph Knight is streaming on the National Theatre of Scotland’s website.