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BWW Reviews: ADELAIDE FRINGE 2015: BLOOD AT THE ROOT Shows How Little Racial Tension Has Eased In America

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Wednesday 11th February 2015

From a script by Dominique Morisseau, six American actors dramatise the true story of the Jena Six, six black high school students jailed for attempted murder after beating up a white student, all of whom were enrolled at Jena High School, Louisiana. Blood at the Root is the powerful and moving interpretation of those events, a work that prompts discussion

Stori Ayers is Raylynn, the one who decides to be the first black student to run for class president, and finds herself becoming an equal rights activist. Kenzie Ross is Asha her white friend, who is more comfortable with the black students than with the white students, until trouble starts to brew and her loyalties are tested.

Brandon Carter is Justin, the black editor of the student newspaper who does not want to rock the boat for fear of damaging his future job prospects, while Allison Scarlet Jaye is Toria, one of his reporters who tries to get him to include real news of much greater significance, which is continually rejected for its emotive and emotional content, placing the two at loggerheads.

Christian Thompson is De'Andre, Raylynn's brother and the hero of the football team, with an inner anger that occasionally turns into physical violence. Tyler Reilly is Colin, the recently transferred white student, who is also on the football team.

On a very hot day, Raylynn questions why it is that only the white students sit under the big shady tree in the school grounds. She goes there and sits in the shade, a couple of others following her lead. The next day there are nooses hanging from the tree, the same number as there were black students sitting there the previous day. Her action, and the resulting response, are the catalysts for the violence that ultimately puts Colin into hospital, and De'Andre into prison.

So many years have gone by since she first sang it, and yet Billie Holiday's song, Strange Fruit is, sadly, still all too relevant.

The individual performances from these young actors are all strongly committed and convincing, and the audience identifies with them in the early stages, seeing them as ordinary young people. When the climax arrives it is thus all the more effective as we have connected with the characters. The group dynamics are equally captivating as friendships and loyalties are challenged, strengthen, or collapse.

This is a memorable production that should be on the lists of the serious theatre-goer this Fringe.

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