Home Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 25th October, 2018
Between February and April of 2016, Leeds-based artist and performer Selina Thompson embarked upon an astonishing sea-faring journey that traces out what she calls the “triangle” that defines her identity.
From Antwerp in Belgium an Italian container ship laden with marble and second-hand cars took her south to Ghana; from there she sailed west across the Atlantic to Jamaica before eventually heading back east via the Atlantic coast of Georgia in the USA.
Throughout the show Selina repeatedly shares her suspicion that her true identity lies at the centre of this great geographic triangle, hence the title of the performance, which alludes to the symbolism of salt dissolving into water in the oceans and then re-forming into crystals again. But then what exactly is Selina Thompson’s true identity? What is anyone’s true identity?
A brief introduction to Selina’s life story reveals why identity is such a fiendishly complicated and troublesome conundrum for her. What emerges from Salt is an intriguing appreciation and understanding of just how powerful self-identity can be and how it may, in some cases, be completely different to what one might expect. In this case, Salt is an excellent analysis of what identity can and does mean for a black woman, specifically a third-generation black woman who is clearly rather sick of being asked “Where are you from?”
Though the question is clearly annoying for Selina, it’s one that also needs answering, and she delves deep, very deep. Hence the extraordinary decision to take on a mammoth sea-faring journey, as a way of experiencing and understanding the slave trade as a force that not only built the Europe that she lives in but which also continues to exert its nefarious influence on her self-identity and the identity that others ignorantly ascribe to her.
Selina’s stories from her journey across the oceans on modern cargo ships instead of luxury cruise liners are tales of struggle and perseverance – much like her more fundamental quest to uncover more about herself. There seems to have been some kind of primordial force that compelled her to keep looking, and the bubbling sensation that the answer might just be around the corner pervades the entire hour of this performance, adding a wonderful sense of mystery and suspense to it. As Selina points out several times during the show, “Europe was pushing against me, so I just kept pushing back.”
As a form of non-fictional theatre, Salt is a set of reflective and illuminating recollections of all that Selina went through during her two months at sea, with particular emphasis on facing racism and misogyny, and how that impacted her self-perception so strongly. There are some beautifully articulated observations and thoughts, most particularly the highly satisfactory relief from tension towards the end of the show when Selina acknowledges that she may have been looking for home in places where she just doesn’t belong.
In the end it isn’t completely clear whether or not the self-identity question has been fully answered, but what definitely seems a lot more certain is that the emotional journey so eloquently described by Selina wouldn’t have been possible without the influence of the intimidating physical expedition that she subjected herself to.
Salt is a beautifully written and gently-paced performance that not only shines a spotlight on one very specific aspect of human identity but which also heavily emphasises why the need to define identity might be so much more crucial for certain people more than others.
Photography: The Other Richard
|Visual pleasure||The performance is dominated by Selina Thompson’s oration, though aided by poignant use of video clips projected onto the back wall. The physical scenes where a large lump of rock salt is broken up with a sledgehammer are stunning, a strange and compelling fusion of violence and story-telling. The on-stage set is basic but appealing, with three, dominating fluorescent tubes used to create the triangle that symbolises Selina’s identity.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||The pace at which the words are spoken is excellent, the tempo and tone of delivery being adjusted to match the message being conveyed. The performance also had a continual backing track that created a deeply atmospheric mood, adding an almost sinister dimension to what, in parts, was a quite a distressing and disturbing tale being told.||4|
|Architecture & Theme||The idea and construction for this show is outstanding, and even more impressive is the extreme lengths that Selina went to in order to acquire her inspirations for the performance. Effectively this is the equivalent of someone telling you all about their travels, which is usually just so dull, but this is no Instagram-inspired trip to a beach bar, Thompson’s journey is extraordinarily different in so many ways.||5|
|Artistic delivery||The show is not acted as such and it certainly does not feel in any way scripted, it’s much more a case of Selina recalling stories of her travels but most important of all is the impressive way in which the impact and feelings associated with those events are so effectively communicated.||4|
|Overall impact||A wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking hour of theatre that holds attention very well and thus impresses in many ways. Despite never having met her before, Selina Thompson quickly becomes “familiar”, as if she’s an old mate telling stories about a crazy holiday that she’s been on. She’s an unknown quantity yet she also seems so familiar, as if perhaps she easily could just slide into your Facebook timeline and immediately be one of your best friends.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|