Preview: Messiah at Stratford Circus Arts Centre

Messiah at Stratford Circus Arts
Messiah at Stratford Circus Arts

Fringe First winners Bear Trap Theatre and Alfred Fagon Award-winner Paula B Stanic bring Messiah, the gripping true story of a revolutionary leader to the stage this autumn. Based on the too-short life of Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton, the drama opens on the night of his assassination.

50 years on from his death, the play highlights Hampton’s life and legacy, in particular the peaceful negotiations he led with Chicago street gangs and his efforts to end to police brutality. Messiah is a timely retelling of Hampton’s story, considering the revolutionary potential of politically engaged young people and the will to make a difference, whatever the cost.

On the 4th December 1969, Fred Hampton lies asleep next to his heavily-pregnant girlfriend, Deborah Johnson. Although only 21-years-old, Hampton has made a name for himself helping to instigate non-violent pacts between street gangs. As the founder of much-needed free public health clinics he’s overseen projects to feed thousands of impoverished school kids. His good deeds, however, are not unanimously winning him fans. All the Chicago Police Department see is a member of the Black Panther Party and, in the dark outside his bedroom, fourteen men load their weapons.

Fred Hampton was born in 1948 in Summit, Illinois. He relocated to Chicago as a young adult after becoming politically-motivated and involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Black Panther Party. His work with the BPP included the Free Breakfast Program, which provided free meals for thousands of school-aged children and is now a lesser-recalled part of the BPP’s activism. Bear Trap Theatre bring their innate sense of empathy to telling the story of this remarkable man.

Director Jessie Briton said, ‘On the 50th anniversary of his death, it’s clear that Fred’s legacy – that of a young black man uniting disparate groups in revolutionary change – is more relevant than ever. Messiah celebrates the man as much as the legacy: his humour; his loving partnership with Deborah Johnson; and his ferocious, forensic wit. His charisma and activism, combined with the circumstances of his untimely death meant this was a story that really got under our skin and one we think will still resonate with audiences today.’

Messiah  is at Stratford Circus Arts Centre 27th – 30th November, followed by a tour.

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