Review: Tales from the Front Line, Talawa Theatre Company
4.0Overall Score

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Talawa, who has been championing Black artists and creatives since 1986, delivers an emotional but optimistic farewell to their Tales from the Front Line series. 

The films, which began streaming in November, tell the stories of Black frontline workers during the pandemic and the weight placed on their shoulders in some of the most at-risk roles. Each one is written as verbatim from interviews held with key workers, often incorporating physicality or dance, and exploring the candid expressions of very real people amid a year where the world has truly been forced to open its eyes to continued discrimination against the Black community. 

As with the series’ earlier films, Primary School Teacher and Breathe are both presented through stunning cinematography by DOP Moses Ssebandeke, with an expert use of framing and depth of field to create dynamic shots which captivate throughout. This not only compliments the narrative of the speaker but brings a crystal-clear reality to it by bringing everything in toward the eyes of the performers. The locations incorporate touches of the world in which these stories take place, allowing us as an audience to place ourselves at the heart of them.

In Primary School Teacher director Michael Buffong (who is also Artistic Director for Talawa) creatively pairs the teacher’s words in voiceover (Adjoa Andoh) to a physical workout (performed by Yami Löfvenberg and Akadi Sankofa), both visualising her need for physical exercise as a form of release, as well as creating an interesting parallel between her boxercise and the fights against COVID and inequality. The film feels more open than its predecessors, its central character less isolated – breathing into the series a sense of the freedoms we are hopefully returning too, if somewhat changed.

Breathe, directed by Ifrah Ismail, brings even more of a shift from the usual format of the series. Feeling like an art installation, the film replaces the verbatim scripts with a poetry style performance, intoned by Chisara Agor – who also wrote and choreographed the piece. Through movement and expressive dance, she explores the stories of the series and the resilience that it has taken for these individuals to work so tirelessly during these tough times. 

It feels a fitting ending for the series to reflect in this way, tying together the threads of so many lives, not just those involved in these interviews but across the UK. This bold decision to break away from the mould they have created for themselves defines the series importance as a piece of theatrical exploration as much as its note as a record of the times this community has faced.

Tales from the Front Line is now available to stream online via Talawa’s Youtube Channel.