Samuel Takes a Break (or, Samuel Takes a Break…: in Male Dungeon No. 5 After a Long but Generally Successful Day of Tours to give Rihanna Illube’s play its full title) is a heart wrenching and complex exploration of the impact of colonialism, dark tourism, and the eternal search in the cycle of healing.

We join Samuell (Fode Simbo) as our tour guide around Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle; a site steeped in a horrific history and relation to the slave trade. In 2019, Ghana launched an initiative to invite members of the Africa Diaspora to travel to and invest in the country; Samuel’s tour of the Castle guides us through the tumultuous emotions attached to such a place, from an array of visitors as well as Samuel himself.

Samuel swears to his co-worker Orange (Bola Akeju) that his obsession with the castle is purely down to a love of history and visitors. However, upon a private tour for a couple (Tori Allen-Martin and Stefan Asante-Boateng) we see the true dark influence that the castle can have on an individual, leaving the audience with an open-ended question of reflection.

Simbo’s Samuel hits all the right notes; as a lead it can often be difficult to anchor the narrative of the play, however this was a masterclass in fully exploring a characters wide range of emotion and maintained tempo to keep the audience gripped. Simbo is very well supported by Akeju’s Orange, who provides a wonderful comical foil throughout – employing the tonal shifts in the script excellently. It is not often that a play can strike the right balance between laugh-out-loud comedy and truly harrowing scenes, especially in the context of such an important, relevant, topic.

The choice to have Allen-Martin and Asente-Boateng multi-roling as various visitors to the castle was incredibly clever. Both were able to show their technical skills as actors as well as provide a range of backgrounds and relationships to the castle through the embodiment of their characters. Such vivid acting from all four members of the cast shone brightly against the minimalist set design; and creative use of lighting and tech divided the chapters in emotional journeys each tour took us through.

Every aspect of the play itself, from writing, to direction, to acting to production is perfectly attuned.

Samuel Takes a Break (dir Anthony Simpson-Pike) is showing until the 23rd of March as The Yard Theatre.

Book Your Tickets Here

By Grace Sanders, Journalist and Student Pages Podcast Host [5 Stars Review]