Review: Before I Go, Camden People’s Theatre

Tobi King-Bakare delivers a stunning performance in Before I Go at the Camden People’s Theatre

“There’s a time for everything, until that time runs out”

From the off, it is evident that Ajani is a hugely charismatic figure. With an open invite to his famous barbeques, he’s flirting with the audience, demonstrating the nuances in different ways to wine, always ready with a cocky smile but it is one that never quite fully reaches his eyes. But when an accident snuffs his light out, Ajani finds himself in Limbo, given the chance to return to his body if he can learn to truly express himself.

For though he’s full of shirtless swagger, we soon see that it is all front. Tobi King Bakare’s Before I Go, performed by Bakare too, takes a searching look at the state of the world today for young working class Black men. Battling societal notions of masculinity and the pernicious reach of systemic racism, it is little wonder that Ajani is repressing so much but with so much now at stake, he knows he has to change.

Instrumental in this process is ‘The Messenger’, an ethereal voice somewhere between angel and therapist who gently guides him through his issues, encouraging Ajani to connect with his feelings through a variety of expressive techniques. And so as he starts to deal with how microagressions make him feel, the challenges at home with his brother incarcerated and his mother working all hours to make ends meet, the act of talking, writing, even dancing about it all begins to release something huge inside him.

Ozioma Ihesiene’s insightful production ensures this is never just your regular one-man-show. Live drumming throughout adds rhythm and texture, the interactions with the recorded voice of The Messenger carry real emotional weight and for all of the heaviness of the material, there’s a lightness of spirit that ensures the poetic heart of the narrative beats as regularly as the actual percussion. A powerfully urgent piece of writing and a striking piece of theatre.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Before I Go is booking at Camden People’s Theatre until 22nd April

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