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Part memorial to the lives lost due to racially motivated brutality, and part plea for change, Tajah’s piece is as educational as historically relevant.

Review: UNDER HEAVEN'S EYES, VAULT Festival The footage of George Floyd's murder at the hands of a Minneapolitan police officer went immediately viral at the height of the pandemic in May 2020. Other than a rightful series of protests around the world, it fanned the sparks of a broader, vital conversation on the discriminatory behaviour against Black and Brown communities. To this day, nearly three years after Floyd's death, videos of brutal acts against minorities on both sides of the Atlantic keep surfacing in an inexcusable display of systematic institutional racism.

Writer Christopher Tajah examines the deep apprehension between the Black communities and the law enforcement through the eyes of Michael Livington, a middle-aged Black man from East London. Stuck at home during lockdown, he gives a historical account of the fight against prejudice in the last three centuries as he records a message for his children, who are studying in the States. Under Heaven's Eyes is an urgently necessary piece. Backed with facts and figures, names and ages, heritage and causes, it has the weight of a lecture.

Tajah's impressive research is mediated by exciting charisma. He is decisive in his exhortation and pleading in his suffused anger, but never preachy. "It has to stop" echoes throughout as he details how discrimination permeates every aspect of a Black person's life, from their social sphere to the workplace. Examples of racial profiling drawn from his own experience coexist with accounts of the tragic murders at the hand of American police officers. Descriptions of the frustration, fear, and shame of stop-and-search practices carried out in Britain tie the two countries together in an intelligent, eloquent monologue.

His educated and reasoned stream of consciousness is, rightfully, mildly uncomfortable, but he goes easy on the audience, everything considered. A few poetry breaks slow down the relentless pace of his inquiry, but they also add mileage that could be shaved off, as does the final portion from the perspective of a Laotian in 1930s Leeds. It takes the public out of it slightly, altering the energy and displacing the attention from the socio-political aim of the play.

Ultimately, it doesn't have too much of an effect on the production as a whole, as its core point is a resolute wake-up call. Part TED Talk, part memorial to the lives lost due to racially motivated brutality, and part plea for change, Tajah's piece is as educational as historically relevant. While it might not be perfect, it should be mandatory viewing, especially in schools. Like his character says: "Education is our best hope".

Under Heaven's Eyes runs at the Network Theatre as part of VAULT Festival until 12 February.

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From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina

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