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PART OF THE Applause ISSUE

‘Imagine how much gold they took to name a Coast after it.’

Scotland’s Makar, Jackie Kay wrote her play The Lamplighter to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007. This month, Picador have published the script, which reads as a profound, impassioned choral poem, and is essential reading for everyone. Here, we publish an extract: affecting, stunning and hard to forget.

 

Extract taken from The Lamplighter
By Jackie Kay
Published by Picador

 

Scene 6: The Story Coming Back

 

FX:
(Exterior a place of memories: West African village. The sounds of children playing.)

LAMPLIGHTER:
I remember back before –
when I played with my friends in my
own country, and time was long
And trees were tall, I remember how my brother
and I watched out for kidnappers.
And how good my father was shaping the wood and metal, and
visits to the snake spirit, how some healers could really heal.
I remember how the Crocodile River,
ran fast. I remember my brother ran fast.
I remember our home with its cone-shaped roof, how my
brother and I belonged to our entire village. I remember the
days I lived before I came here, the life before.
The life before, the life I lived,
the life when I could breathe,
when I could smell the smells
and taste the tastes.

FX:
(Fade West African village. Cane field. Suggested rather than stated.)

LAMPLIGHTER:
Seems another me
lived that blessed life, another girl-
girl, deep in the interior country
far away from the coast,
a girl who had never ever seen the sea,
a girl who climbed to the top of trees.
I like to think she is up there, still,
mysterious, magical girl,
that she would never ever
hear this story.

MARY:
I wanted to run from that story.

CONSTANCE:
I wanted to pretend it never happened.

BLACK HARRIOT:
I wanted a break.

LAMPLIGHTER:
But no matter how fast I ran from my story,
No matter how many years,
The story just kept coming in and coming back
Like the sea to the shore
Like the sea always comes back to the shore.

BLACK HARRIOT:
Nobody told my story before.
You better listen good, girl.
Or I’m going to tell it twice!

MARY:
I wanted to be still and quiet.
Never to tell it.
When I lived it
sun up to sun set.

BLACK HARRIOT:
I was brought up on the Guinea Coast

CONSTANCE:
Imagine how much gold they took
To name a Coast after it.

MARY:
Imagine how much ivory

CONSTANCE:
To call a Coast Ivory Coast.

BLACK HARRIOT:
Imagine how many slaves

MARY:
To name a Coast Slave Coast?

CONSTANCE:
On the front of the 22-carat gold Guinea
There is an elephant and a castle,
Beneath the effigy of a right-facing King.

MACBEAN:
‘Elephant and Castle’ – very popular name for British pubs.

BLACK HARRIOT:
I was brought up on the Guinea Coast
When I was a young girl.
I was taken to St Kitts and sold
To Big Fat Planter
When I was a young girl.
I had two children
Their father was Big Fat Planter
When I was a young girl.

 

The Lamplighter by Jackie Kay is published by Picador, priced £9.99.

You can catch Jackie Kay’s Makar2Makar event with Joy Harjo and Suzanne Bonnar at this year’s online Edinburgh International Book Festival. Book your free spot here.

 

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