Though George Floyd’s name has become ubiquitous in recent times, it is shocking that Sheku Bayoh’s name is probably less widely known here in Scotland, despite the fact that he was killed at the hands of police in the middle of a street in Kirkcaldy. This play is both a tribute to him and a rallying cry for long-overdue societal change.
Three performers (Saskia Ashdown, Patricia Panther, and Courtney Stoddart) narrate Lament for Sheku Bayoh seamlessly shifting between spoken word, reported speech, hypothetical roleplay, heart-breaking storytelling, and political rhetoric. They serve as vessels for various accounts of Bayoh’s death: witness statements, police officer testimony, and TV news reports, which all build together to present a brutal and disturbing story of how he died, the aftermath, and the national culture these circumstances stemmed from. What is particularly chilling is how many of the words spoken are simply verbatim quotations from those involved and media coverage at the time. Much of the speech is even poetic – rhythmical, impassioned, frustrated, pleading, and evocative.
The actors morph easily from one segment to the next, accompanied by atmospheric lighting, huge projected visuals, and Beldina Odenyo’s musical performance. The mood is intense throughout and the changing scenes keep up at a taut pace, guiding us from police station to Kirkcaldy street to a BBC news report to Bayoh’s funeral.
Important questions are asked here. Whose responsibility is it to stop racism? What can art do about it? And where do our sympathies lie when the police are accused of racism? Why is it easier to believe that someone like Bayoh was surely doing something wrong than it is to believe that a police officer could be racist? The play attempts to answer these societal questions while paying tribute to Bayoh the individual. It culminates in an incredibly moving tribute, allowing us to mourn, reflect, and change.