Actor Corey Montague-Sholay talks about playing Edmund in The Whip, and the writer, abolitionist and slave that inspired his character.
Olaudah Equiano was an abolitionist, writer and enslaved man taken from what we now call Nigeria. He was key in not only bringing about the 1807 Slave Trade Act but also in reshaping and reclaiming the narrative around black people of the time through his 1789 memoir, modestly titled The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, one of the first widely read slave narratives. He is sharp, curious, intelligent, and evolving, from his earliest memory to his many many years spent at sea.
One of the things that hit me was how Olaudah had a world, history, life, which were erased from public the moment he was taken, and even his name became something he could only hold in private.
There's a scene in the play where a group of men discuss what slaves might do with income, one character gives near verbatim answers from an actual transcript, they can't understand why a slave would want cotton sheets. But they forget these people existed, with languages, cultures and comforts. Why wouldn't you seek to at least retain some small semblance of them?
Edmund is partly based on Olaudah, and this character has allowed me to look into the lives of other slaves such as Francis Barber and Francis Williams. He is pubescent, deeply intelligent and deeply lost.
Real and personal
For me The Whip is a marvel of a play. It takes a special writer to create characters intelligent enough to say how they feel and Juliet has done this. Like the name of the play (which may be taken as political or physical), depending on your frame of mind many scenes take on a different meaning. When I first read it, I was surprised to find out exactly how historically accurate the characters are, I had met them already in my real life.
On a research trip to the Museum of London Docklands I saw a portrait of a slave bearing my mother's surname. It reminded me of the drive these men and women had to not only live but to seek rights. And moreover to keep sanity - their minds must have been always churning. Even having some semblance of them in this play has given a richness and complexity that is at times overwhelming, but also grounding. These people, they were taken to a place where they were considered two thirds of a human. And they said no. Fuck me.
Read Richard Clothier's blog about playing Alexander Boyd