#EdFringe: Henry Box Brown – Review
A huge cast with big voices take on an incredible tale of slavery, which needs more work to reach its full potential.
An incredibly important story, and a true one at that – after a life of hardship and slavery, Henry Brown mails himself to freedom in a box. Supposedly a big hit across the US, it feels like an up and coming show has been crammed into a box like Henry and compressed for the Fringe audience, leaving the show feeling rushed and light on for narrative.
It has an am-dram feel to it though, in that it doesn’t feel fully polished or complete as a story, but full of heart and a passionate ensemble. The story also feels like it needs work – there’s no strong narrative tying the show together, just gorgeous songs and moments in Henry Brown’s life, but without that dialogue and character development it’s hard to buy into the character’s backstories. The show crams a lot into an hour and seems to rush through the main plot points, so it would be phenomenal to take some more time and expand the show into a 2-acter, or a 90-100 minute one act show that delves into the complex emotions and history of this time.
It also feels like it has a bit of a white saviour complex, with the white pastor coming forward to call for an end to slavery and being the voice of the people, and so much of the dialogue sound like it has been written in a less than authentic cultural voice (in a very ye olde English grammar) – with a bit of work on the story, this is going to be one incredibly moving piece of theatre.
The use of on stage percussion drowns out many of the voices more than once, but creates a gorgeous pace and energy, so getting that balance right is important. There are massive full cast songs with incredible harmonies (which feel like they should be closing the show, but they don’t) , and the 16 voices create a really rich sound in the space.
The show has decent costumes and a simple set- the space is well used by such a big cast and only feels crowded when all 16 people are trying to stand towards the centre of Big Yin at Gilded Balloon’s Pater Hoose. But because there’s 16 people on and off stage, it’s noisy and messy in its transitions and set changes.
The divide in classes and worlds is conveyed simply through a single image of a window looking into each world, and a few pieces of furniture that would be found there (like a huge puffy armchair).
The show is selling out, and has huge potential but needs urgent revisions to the script and storyline of the show to give Henry Brown’s story true justice and to allow more space for these performers to shine to their full glory.
Henry Box Brown plays at Gilded Balloon Pater Hoose until 26 August. More info.