‘You do not know me yet but I am the heroine of this drama. I am told that here I must give a taste of what is to unfold. I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent days of slavery and the early years of freedom.
‘I was born a slave upon a sugar plantation named Amity. I was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and when slavery was declared no more. It tells of my mama Kitty, of the negroes enslaved, of Caroline Mortimer the woman who owned me. I am to say that it is a true and thrilling journey through that unsettled time.
‘Cha, I say, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just see it for themselves.’
The Long Song is adapted from Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel by Suhayla El‑Bushra, formerly writer in residence at the National Theatre Studio and whose work includes The Suicide (NT), Arabian Nights (Lyceum, Edinburgh), and Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge.
Tara Tijani makes her professional debut as July, having graduated from Guildhall School of Music & Drama this year.
Llewella Gideon plays Old July; her many TV credits include Small Axe – Mangrove, The Real McCoy and Absolutely Fabulous.
Olivia Poulet (Caroline Mortimer) previously appeared at Chichester in Fred’s Diner and Top Girls; her TV credits include The Thick of It.
Director Charlotte Gwinner was Associate Director at the Bush Theatre, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and Sheffield Theatres 2014-16, where her productions included Waiting for Godot, the Sarah Kane season and The Distance.
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Audio Content: Levy's Legacies
Listen to Levy’s Legacies - our audio collection exploring Andrea Levy’s life and writing, the context in which she wrote The Long Song and Suhayla El-Bushra’s brand new adaptation for the stage:
Suhayla El-Bushra writes for stage and screen. She was writer in residence at the National Theatre, London, where her adaptation of Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide was staged in the Lyttelton Theatre. Other stage work includes: Pigeons (Royal Court, 2013 and tour), Cuckoo (Unicorn Theatre, 2014), The Kilburn Passion (Tricycle, 2014), Arabian Nights (Lyceum, Edinburgh, 2017). Her screen credits include two series of Channel 4's Ackley Bridge, Becoming Elizabeth (The Forge/Starz Channel) and a short film for Film4.
Was it daunting adapting a piece of work when you admire both the writer, and the book?
I did feel quite reverential at first, and was very careful with it. I think as you go along, it stops being what it was and becomes a piece of theatre and you just have to think about it in those terms. I thought about how to keep the book intact while also moving it onto the stage. The story in the book is very complete and it works very well, so I needed to turn that into something that can go on to work as a piece of theatre. In that respect it was quite a new way of working for me.
The play is from the point of view of July, and that in turn comes through Andrea’s voice, then your voice. What does the diversity of voices bring to the work?
For me, the book is about history and storytelling, and whose version of events get remembered and whose get written down, or passed on orally. Playing around with different voices, and different versions of stories, and the slippery nature of the truth, is something I’ve tried to put into the play, but I think it applies to the process of me telling the story that Andrea tells, of these people in Jamaica in the 1830s – that story has come through all these different filters. It’s come through Andrea’s lens, a Black British writer who was Jamaican but spent very little time there, and it’s now come through my lens, so it’s passing on the spirit of the book which is that all these stories keep evolving. The fact is now coming through another medium, from verbal, to print, and now on stage, feels a very natural part of the process.
Content and Themes
At CFT, we want everyone to feel truly welcome and comfortable. While we try not to spoil anyone’s enjoyment by giving away ‘spoilers’ such as plot twists and narrative surprises, we also recognise that some people may find certain themes distressing. You’ll find guidance on such content below; please be aware that by reading this, some elements of the plot may be revealed. Please note that these may be updated nearer the time of the production as staging details are confirmed.
The Long Song Language: Racially offensive language prevalent at the period Nudity: None anticipated Violence: Corporal punishment, gunshots, death by suicide and hanging Themes: Slavery, scenes of a sexual nature and childbirth
Further reading and resources
We have compiled a list of websites, podcasts, videos and podcasts for anyone who wants to explore the issues raised in The Long Song further. This list is by no means complete, so please keep exploring and reading yourselves.
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