A call with Mr. Robeson


Hold your breath, Victoria; here comes a big one. Award-winning writer, actor and singer Tayo Aluko performs his one-man show Call Mr. Robeson at Intrepid Theatre on Feb. 20, 2013, as part of Black History Month. In this play, British-Nigerian Aluko tells (and sings) the inspiring story of Paul Robeson, the African-American musician and pioneering civil rights activist who, according to Aluko, has been “wiped from public consciousness.”

“Paul Robeson was such a famous individual, not just for his artistic endeavors, but his role as an effective and courageous civil rights activist,”Aluko says.

The show is directed by Olusola Oyeleye, with set and costume designs by Phil Newman and musical accompaniment by Karel Roessingh.

An architect turned actor, Aluko earned the Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence and Best Male Performer Award at the 2008 Brighton Festival Fringe, along with two Merit Awards for Excellence in London in 2010. Call Mr. Robeson has played over 200 times in several countries since its 2007 launch.

Aluko has moved audiences the world over, and audiences have moved him. He recalls a performance where 600 Nigerian schoolboys “stood up, clapped and shouted” after he performed “Ol’ Man River” at Kings College in Lagos — the school he left in 1978.

“Decades ago, I was one of those boys. I hope that, from seeing that show, one of those 600 boys will accomplish something like this.”

Aluko also performed the show on his 50th birthday in February 2012 at New York’s Carnegie Hall; the same place Robeson stood in 1958 when the state returned his passport. Aluko received a standing ovation.

“I almost cried there onstage at the enormity of that situation,” says Aluko.

That is not to say Aluko has not met challenges. He initially faced some ignorance towards the show’s content.

He says, “Not many people will immediately know what it is about and want to see it.”

However, Aluko is determined to spread Robeson’s universal message to appreciate the role of the individual within community and society.

“I enjoy seeing and feeling people come on this journey with me to meet such an inspiring figure. I hope they leave re-energized to be socially active.”

I was re-energized from simply speaking to Aluko on the phone, so I can’t imagine what kind of inspiration his performance will spark. This show will be one for the books.

Call Mr. Robeson plays at the Metro Studio (corner of Quadra Street and Johnson Street) on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 pm. Tickets are $22 (+$2 advance) from ticketrocket.org/(250) 590 6291.