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Romana Peace links ongoing slavery to her personal suffering

Respect for the many resistance fighters against slavery links Romana Vrede in 'Time will teach us' with anger at 'the system' in which exploitation continues, and with the pains in her personal life.

Lokay, a teenager still, flees from the plantation on St Maarten, is again caught and physically punished by the white owner: a breast cut off, she nearly bled to death in hellish pains. It did not stop her from fleeing again, this time to live free forever. One-Tété Lohkay Has a statue on St Maarten.

Dead silent falls the Schouwburg in The Hague on 1 July 2023 as Romana Vrede takes the entire stage to begin this story 'Time will teach us'. The chillingly beautiful voice of Guillermo Armand Blinker (Otion) precedes her, he starts the performance by pressing the button on his synthesiser/mixer panel (as in Stop Making Sense) to come, see and conquer with its brilliant combination of traditional Surinamese and modern music.

Dancing and talking

Romana then entered the stage at the side, cautiously moving, then dancing, first modestly, then increasingly exuberant and free. The perfectly matched duo immediately captured the audience.

Romana takes over with more impressive stories, such as of the horrors on the first slavery transport from Ghana to America, those jettisoned for which the Dutch were able to collect compensation. But mostly stories of resistance, such as of the prisoners of the Igbo tribe who had a corridor in the sea preferred to a life of slavery.

A bevy of brave resistance fighters against slavery passes by, names mostly unknown to Western-influenced historiography.

System attacks

This resistance Peace and Otion honours with a far-reaching conclusion at this Ketikoti commemoration 150 years after the official end of slavery: it was not abolished, it was not a conscious act of white compassion, but a consequence of the resistance of enslaved people. Anger takes over for Romana, the word 'privilege' falls.

Because, Peace suggests, all the attention, all the protests, like after George Floyd's death, take place within 'the system' and 'strengthen the system'. So too do Prime Minister Rutte's apologies. "About this afternoon's [Willem-Alexander's] one, I'll refrain from commenting." Real resistance is overthrowing the capitalist system that still to this day enslaves and exploits blacks.

Even angrier and more revealing is Romana's outpouring that she reluctantly comes to the theatre to entertain the audience, the privileged who wait 'with their arms crossed' to be entertained.

Never before have I seen the audience so diverse in a Dutch theatre, which makes me happy. How Dutch culture needs this! I do now feel uncomfortably privileged and elitist as a reviewer. Although caution always prevails, N=1.

Mother and son

I found Romana Peace's narrations as memorable as they were impressive. They were in line with the playful podcast Time Will Teach Us that Peace and Blinker (al three seasons) with verve and a lot of fun making for The National Theatre, plus a musical TV broadcast for the Vpro.

Romana then connects her powerful slavery story with the sensitivities of her personal life: how incredibly she misses her mother - forced to be buried in the Netherlands by corona; how lonely caring for her disabled Charlie could be, like that time at the tram stop or when he "swallowed half a toilet cube".

Sadness and anger fight for attention. Until 'Mana' encourages herself: she will persevere like the resistance fighters against slavery and like her mother who defended four children against a Dutch environment that she perceived as hostile and racist.

In short, an impressive performance 'Time will teach us' by Romana Vrede, Otion and director Erik Whien. I did take issue with the sometimes preachy tone and lack of dramaturgical play defining drama. And their choice of Romana's personal story rather than universal questions and values as Babs Gons did last weekend in her beautiful poem at the start of the Slavery History Memorial Year:

"But who are we now
who are we tomorrow
with this past stretching out before us
who are we after the decimal point
the grand-grandchildren of

how do we write ourselves
in this next chapter
with how many arms and with
what words will we use to describe the past
pull out of the shadows
look them in the eye
and embrace?"

Seen: Time will tell, The National Theatre, Royal Theatre, 1 July 2023; still to be enjoyed on 5, 6 and 7 July 2023.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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