Review: WOKE at the Royal Exchange Theatre

  • Testament in association with LittleMighty presents WOKE
  • A Royal Exchange, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Roundhouse and CPT Co-Production

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Woke as originally meaning well-informed and up-to-date. But nowadays, alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice. It’s through a brilliant blend of beatboxing, rap, monologue and comedy that Testament (Andy Brooks) helps to give woke its new definition. Bringing the two clashing juxtaposed juggernauts of hip-hop and feminism together and attempting to become aware of the social injustices women face.

Testament’s awareness to becoming “woke” comes from being a father to five-year-old daughter, Elise, who has a huge role in the show but only as an illusory existence. There’s the whole irony of the performance being a one-man show about feminism which is appreciated and wittily addressed as “not an elephant but a whole safari” in the room. Testament reflects on his own stance and that which the rap and hip-hop world around him take on women, with the honest, guilty admittance that he never really considered it until she was born. Which can be said for many men out there who only start to think “what if it happened to her?” once they have a daughter of their own.

The highlights of the show come from Testament’s intelligent and humorous performances. Cleverly unpicking the underlying role the media and rap music take in creating the everyday sexism and misogyny that flies over many of our heads. Doing so by creating looped backing tracks to rap over, from his own wide array of instrumental vocals and world-record beatboxing skills rivalling that of Police Academy’s Michael Winslow. He recreates hip-hop classics such as “Rapper’s Delight” and “Jump Around” before stopping in realisation at the treatment of women in the lyrics. He also breaks down the elements of the modern club banger tracks we here today looking at the recipe of sexism that makes them up with the memorable chorus of “objectify the women”.

There’s the embarrassingly honest revelations from Testament of his own prejudgments and sexism towards women, which he shows subtlety in the show when he tells his daughter to “go play with your Barbie’s”. He addresses how it’s easy to point at others and look at what they’re doing but harder to take a look at your own shortfalls. Powerfully, leaving you with no choice but to sit and think about and question your own behaviours.

One of the controversial revelations being “I’d rather be half black than a woman”. For a mixed-race man who tells us about his own struggles with racism through his life to make this statement, it shows just how poorly he sees the treatment of women in the modern day and how much he is worrying for his daughter growing up in this world.

WOKE ends with a chance for the female audience members to pitch in with guidance Testament can tell his daughter growing up, the audience participation at first feels a little awkward but once people start to get involved its uplifting to hear all the positive advice from the women in the crowd.

On a whole, the performance leaves you going away feeling uplifted and a totally more aware and insightful of your own role your actions have, no matter what you thought prior to coming in. For Andy Brooks and his daughter Elise I think this would deem it a success.