A new radio play about the Haitian revolution will be broadcast on the UK station Galaxy radio over the next four weeks, beginning 17 September 16.30.
The play was written by Anthony Maddalena and produced by Thee Black Swan Theatre and Opera Company, see http://www.theeblackswan.co.uk/.
The play is also being broadcast on the internet at: http://www.afiwestation.com/
Episode 1 will be broadcast on Friday 17th September at 6.30pm. This is a repeat of the 1st episode from Sunday 12th Spetember.
Episode 2 will be on Sunday 19th September at 11am [repeated on Friday 24th September at 6.30pm]
Episode 3 will be on Sunday 26th September at 11am [repeated on Friday 1st October at 6.30pm]
The final Episode number 4 will be on Sunday 3rd October at 11am [repeated on Friday 8th October at 6.30pm]
Each episode is approximately 30 minutes long.
The production will chart the powerful and moving true story of the successful slave uprising of 1791-1803 which liberated the French colony of St.Domingue (present day Haiti) from slavery and created the first independent black state outside of Africa against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
The company feels this largely unknown story deserves to be told particularly as events in Haiti directly led to British abolition, and this important step deserves to be explored and celebrated, including the little-known heroes who threw off the shackles of slavery to create the World’s only successful Slave Revolt.
The play will paint a vivid picture of the cruel and bizarre slave society which was swept away by the French Revolution, in which a black person’s blood was categorised in a strange system of parts. It focuses on slave life and how it helped them to forge a communal identity for the task of winning independence.
It examines the political and cultural divisions between different groups, for example the Planters and the “small whites” (poor white people of that colony) but also the changing fortunes of the Mulattoes, and their torn allegiances.
The key player is Toussaint L’Ouverture and his meteoric transformation into a brilliant diplomat and military leader capable of uniting various factions in the country’s increasingly volatile racial mix, galvanising brutalised ex-slaves into an effective fighting machine. It demonstrates his chameleon-like quality as a soldier, tactician and statesman playing off the major European powers to safeguard the country’s liberty.
It will dramatise his remarkable teamwork not only with his black lieutenants, such as Dessalines and Christophe, but also with pivotal French players such as Sonthonax and Laveaux who risked their lives to ensure that slavery would remain abolished.
Importantly it will raise questions about the nature of liberty. What did “liberty” mean to the Rebels and also other factions such as the Mulattoes, and remaining colonists and at what price?
The play’s action will focus on the pivotal moments in the struggle for independence. Namely the Vodou-inspired Uprising under the Slave Leader, Boukman in 1791, the subsequent campaigns of Toussaint in which he demonstrated his skills as an unprecedented, multi-faceted leader, his intrigues with the Spanish and Revolutionary French players (sympathetic to the cause of liberty), and his epic struggles with reactionary French forces such as General Hedouville and Leclerc.
It will highlight Toussaint’s unique character and incredible evolution from a semi-educated slave, to a self-taught diplomat and military tactician capable of winning immense battles against the French. It will examine how he was able to overcome his shyness to inspire the masses, and how he attempted to reconcile different groups. It will contrast his character with the other key ex-slave leaders, Dessalines and Christophe, and dramatise the very strong bonds of loyalty and friendship which existed between them. It will also shed light on their very different visions for the future. In the case of Dessalines a racially segregated Black Haiti with Vodou as the State religion. For Christophe, a grandiose pseudo-Napoleonic Kingdom. The play, therefore, depicts the central role of belief in the struggle. From the outset the religion of Vodou played a unifying role and made the ex-slaves feel invincible in battle, but it was also a religion which Toussaint feared and tried to ban. As the drama unfolds it will highlight the religion’s contribution and the magical link to Africa that it provides.
The play’s structure will draw its inspiration from Vodou art and belief in evoking a world where the barriers between the present and the past, the living and the dead are blurred. The experience will involve authentic elements of music and dance to create the sense of a tale being relayed by members of a tribe.
The play will create the sense of an unstoppable, uncontrollable series of events unfolding. Much of the drama will highlight the clever way the leaders, particularly Toussaint, opportunistically sought to control and shape events around them. The play will raise questions about the nature of history. Did the slave leaders make it, or did it make them?
Thorough research and translation will be undertaken to authentically recreate the world of the slaves and other groups in the island’s society. This includes leading studies on the subject such as CLR James’s “Black Jacobins” and brand new texts such as “Toussaint L’Ouverture” by Madison Smartt Bell (published USA 2007.) We will use the font of primary sources, including eye witness accounts and dispatches available in the archives of the Bibliotheque Nationale (French National Library), in Paris.
The play will culminate with the tragedy of L’Ouverture’s betrayal at the hands of Napoleon, his death in a French gaol and chillingly evoke the chasm that his death left behind, with the tyrannical Dessalines taking over and instigating a bloody all-out race war.
Thee Black Swan feels the play’s themes of freedom, belief and identity are highly relevant for today. There is certainly an educational value, and it is believed this play will help to shed light on little known black heroes, helping to fill a gap, and to provide much needed role-models especially for African-Caribbean sections of the community.