I WAS FORTUNATE TO BE ABLE TO SEE JACKIE’S ONE WOMAN SHOW, The Lynching, in Brighton. Even though I thought I understood what it was going to be about - having read her memoir Pilgrim State and followed the witch-hunt saga that sees her still suspended from the Labour Party - I was mesmerised by her performance.
Using only a few minimal props - a hat, a doll, a photograph - and a variety of voices (which honestly was a surprise and very well executed), Jackie transports us from the Caribbean to New York City, back to the Caribbean, and finally to the UK. Her mother’s story and hers intertwine throughout the play, as the sense of history once again ignominiously repeating itself becomes clear to the audience.
The complicated history of the slave trade is hinted at, as is the difficulty of carrying on an inter-racial relationship during 1950s America. Both Jackie’s parents were activists in the American Civil Rights Movement, an engagement that made them both targets for Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt. The consequences of this were devastating for Jackie’s mother.
Jackie’s play is not a diatribe or even a polemic narrative (as a lesser artist might have rendered it), but a very skilfully crafted work of art. Her mother’s story and hers are both elliptically told, replete with poetic understatement that forces the audience to draw their own conclusions about racism, oppression, witch-hunts and over-zealous social workers.
The play ends with the start of a trial. The McCarthy era was a stain on America’s democracy. Let us hope that the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit realises that whipping up frenzy for an antisemitism bogyman within our ranks is equally abhorrent, as it is now enthusiastically being taken up as a stick by the Tories to beat the Labour Party. We can only hope that when Jackie finally does get her day in court, it is not a similar show-trial.
After a very successful showing at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London and Brighton, Jackie is taking her play on a tour across the country. I would urge everyone, if you get the opportunity, to go see it for yourself.
- To arrange a showing of The Lynching in your area, contact: Labour Briefing at email@example.com
Colne Valley CLP delegate to Labour Party conference