THE­ATRE CAll MR RobE­son Zoo South­Side (Venue 82) HHHHH

The Scotsman - - Fringereviews Hotshow -

SAY the name “Paul Robe­son” to­day, and huge num­bers of peo­ple on both sides of the At­lantic no longer have any idea who you mean. Yet back in the mid-20th cen­tury, Robe­son was one of the most fa­mous men on the planet, not only the great­est singer and ac­tor ever to emerge from black Amer­ica, but a pow­er­ful cam­paigner for civil rights in the United States, and for the dig­nity of work­ing peo­ple ev­ery­where. The fact that he is so lit­tle re­mem­bered to­day is a trib­ute to the skill – if not the ethics – of the CIA and the FBI, who so de­tested Robe­son for his com­mu­nism, and his af­fec­tion for the Soviet Union, that they sought, with some suc­cess, to de­stroy both his ca­reer and his rep­u­ta­tion, and to wipe his name from the his­tor­i­cal record.

And it’s in or­der to help right that wrong that Tayo Aluko – who mod­estly de­scribes him­self as “a Nige­rian bari­tone”, rather than the deep south­ern bass the Robe­son story re­quires – has cre­ated this sim­ply-told but im­mensely pow­er­ful bi­o­graph­i­cal study of Robe­son’s ca­reer, ac­com­pa­nied by Michael Con­liffe on pi­ano, and fea­tur­ing some of the mu­sic that made Robe­son fa­mous, in­clud­ing his theme song, Ol’ Man River. The pic­ture of Robe­son that emerges is a rich and com­plex one; we see not only the singer and cam­paigner, but the man in love with books and mu­si­col­ogy, who was drawn into pol­i­tics by the sound of hun­gry Welsh min­ers sing­ing on a London street in the 1920s, and who be­lieved that there were pro­found mu­si­cal links among the songs of or­di­nary peo­ple, across the earth. Robe­son was of­ten flawed, and some­times fool­ish. But he was also a great artist with a mighty, gen­er­ous cam­paign­ing spirit; and if this show helps to re­store him to our col­lec­tive me­mory, then it will have ful­filled a fine pur­pose, with great grace.

JoyCE MCMillAn

Un­til 30 Au­gust. To­day, 6:15pm

Tayo Aluko in a pow­er­ful story of a great man al­most for­got­ten

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