Tales from the Front Line ... and other stories
November 2020 - April 2021
Tales from the Front Line ... and other stories documents the contribution of Black workers at the front line of the Covid-19 crisis, using verbatim interviews to create a lasting historical record.
★★★★ The Guardian
★★★★ The Stage
★★★★★ The Upcoming
The Covid-19 pandemic presents a challenge to Black key and front-line workers, especially after the Windrush Scandal and global Black Lives Matter movement. Now, many are demanding that a changed society must emerge from it.
In the final Tales from the Front Line instalment we explore the possibility of hope and joy. Black front line worker's spoke of how they coped with the challenges the pandemic threw them; of racism, and of fighting against prevailing attitudes. Yet present in all the verbatim interviews was something else, something joyful.
Having journeyed through the exhaustion of Black front line workers, we now focus on their glimmering hope for a better future, Tales from the Front Line ... and other stories uses verbatim interviews to explore the historic Covid-19 crisis and its seismic impact on those at the front line of the pandemic.
Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
★★★★ “Miniature character studies, rich in insight and individual detail. They reveal a person and a life.”
Sam Marlowe, iPaper
★★★★ “… intimate, thoughtful, and nakedly honest ... Impossible not to listen; impossible to look away.“
★★★★ " ... an example of the way theatre can be used to educate and promote understanding."
Directed by Talawa’s New Work Producer, Ifrah Ismail, the final film is something entirely different altogether: it is inspired by how the testimonies collected highlighted self-care and resilience-building as a key to surviving and growing in modern Britain. With writing, choreography, music and performance by singer, actress, and theatre maker Chisara Agor who is an alumnus of Talawa's annual summer school TYPT, you have a moment to breathe and ground yourself.
Tales from the Front Line - Part 6: BREATHE
"I'm leading you away from this place – this endless noise."
As Adjoa Andoh (Bridgerton; Fractured) shares the words of a teacher in voiceover, Yami Löfvenberg and Akadi Sankofa re-imagine the interviewee’s own exercise and dance regime to bring the fifth film to life as directed by Talawa’s Artistic Director, Michael Buffong. As she weighs up her distrust of disinformation with her unease with the institutions promoting the vaccine, the teacher makes a choice to protect herself and the children who just sometimes need a hug.
Tales from the Front Line - Part 5: Primary School Teacher
"Friday I will go to dance. Saturday, I go dance. That gives me my fuel"
The fourth 'Tales from the Front Line' film sees Ann Akin (I May Destroy You; Strike series), directed by Jessica Mensah, and sharing the words of a supermarket assistant whose job has led her to consider the judgements she has made about others’ career choices as she becomes conscious of entitled shoppers’ perceptions of her. From the fear inspired by panic-buying to the sudden appreciation from shoppers who gained awareness of the essential role of supermarket workers, the pandemic has been a rollercoaster. She finds the power in holding onto positivity and gratitude to keep going through each day.
Tales from the Front Line - Episode 4: Shop Assistant
"... the way you conduct yourself, the way you appreciate people; you should at all times show empathy, show kindness."
Directed by David Gilbert, the third film stars Kwame Bentil (Get Luke Lowe; Summerlake) and shares the words of a train dispatch worker who worries that his work puts his elderly father at risk of infection. Disappointed by the lack of respect given by passengers even as he adapts to help them and tries to enforce the rules to keep them safe, he finds himself frustrated by the baseless assumptions he encounters every day.
Tales from the Front Line - Episode 3: Railway Worker
"It took weeks before they did anything. Not everyone is treated equally."
The second film sees Sapphire Joy (J’Ouvert, Theatre503; Casualty), directed by Kwame Asiedu, share the words of an NHS Recovery Worker. Frustrated by the racial bias in the medical treatment of Black people, she finds herself further exhausted by performative gratitude during the pandemic, when there was little public outcry at the government’s failure to give NHS workers pay rises.
Tales from the Front Line - Episode 2: NHS Mental Health Worker
“It’s a lot of work being black in Britain ... you can’t always be shouting back”
The first film stars Jo Martin (Doctor Who; Casualty), directed by Michael Buffong, who shares a teacher’s experience of trying to keep themselves and their pupils safe after decades of budget cuts. It explores how new conversations opened up in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movement, and the challenges of supporting students’ education when nothing was certain anymore.
Tales from the Front Line - Episode 1: Schoolteacher
“You could tell the kids were worried because they went quiet ... and then there was George Floyd.”
We want to know what you think
- The pandemic has had a starkly divergent impact on communities; Black people are four times more likely to die from Covid-19, according to Office of National Statistics figures in May 2020 for England and Wales.
- While in November 2020, the Joint Committee on Human Rights report “Black People, Racism and Human Rights”, concluded that the Government must urgently take action to protect the human rights of Black people across many areas, including healthcare.
The Tales from the Front Line interviews were a space for the Black workers to share their experiences, their concerns and their hopes for the future.
Black artists and creatives have then used the testimonies to create six dramatised pieces of work using music, movement, photography and soundscapes to convey the story. These will be released episodically: the first two films were made available in November 2020, a second instalment was released in February, with a third instalment due later in Spring 2021.
George Collins, A Younger Theatre
★★★★ " ... strikingly beautiful – but the anger they inspire is deep."
Michael Buffong, Artistic Director and Joint CEO, Talawa Theatre Company
“Tales from the Front Line creates a historical record of the contribution of Black workers at the front line of the Covid-19 crisis, demanding change from society. These truth-telling stories reflect real-life experiences which can't be ignored, and do so in ways that are artistically and creatively rich.”
Please support the work of Black Minds Matter UK
Black Minds Matter UK understand the effects of racial discrimination across this country, the resilience it takes to fight this on a daily basis, and the triggering effects of seeing violence against Black people in our media.
Treating mental health must be a priority in the fight for equality and welfare of black people in the UK. That's why we are asking you to help us support the work of Black Minds Matter UK.
Please donate to Black Minds Matter UK, using the button below.
We are enormously grateful for the generosity of many people, especially the Black front line workers who shared their experiences, thoughts and hopes with us. We are also grateful for the support we have received from Arts Council England and Croydon Council’s Culture Relief Fund.
Thank you to everyone who has helped make Tales from the Front Line ... and other stories possible.
Supported by Arts Council England and Croydon Council’s Culture Relief Fund