Dream of a King, The Playground Theatre

Twentieth Century Icon

There is currently a BBC TV series on famous people who are deemed icons of the twentieth century. These are people who have excelled in human endeavours and achievements in their particular field. BBC audiences have been asked to vote on who they think is the greatest person of the twentieth century, from each category and overall. Dr Martin Luther King has been placed in the category of “Activist,” alongside one of his heroes Mahatma Gandhi, from whom he based the strategy of non-violent civil disobedience, during the movement for civil rights for African-American people. So it is apt that we join writer/actor Christopher Tajah as Dr Martin Luther King in “Dream of a King” on the last day of his life, alone in a hotel room awaiting his next speaking engagement. Tajah’s meticulous research into the life and work of Dr King shines through, not in a dry scholarly way, but as a drama with the undercurrent of political intrigue. And although, as Tajah’s Dr King informs us, we all know how this story ends, the tight script, direction and Tajah’s embodiment of the character, made me hold my breath in trepidation. Tajah’s passionate performance moved me to empathise with much of his personal as well as political struggles. Tajah is Dr King; he has enough of the mannerisms and speech cadences to be Dr King without being a slick impersonation. As I witnessed Dr King give an account of his life up to this point, I felt like I was privileged to gain an insight into how Dr King was probably thinking and feeling. I basked in the warmth of memories of his childhood memories and his courtship of Coretta, his wife. I experienced the weight of all the expectations piled upon him, and underlying this, the strength given to him by his faith. Singer/ Songwriter Paulette Tajah’s gorgeous vocals, at some of the key moments in the play, provides us with the emotional range and strengths of gospel music; referencing the religious foundation of Dr King’s principles and belief that he was called to fight against social injustice and for the rights of the disadvantaged and poor.

dream of a king, paulette tajah production shot 14
Paulette Tajah, photo by Remy Hunter
Tajah’s Dr King gives us a peek into the likely impact of the criticisms he faced when his political views broadened from civil rights, to equal rights and workers’ rights. We also learn about how much Dr King was under physical and political attack for his leadership of the civil rights movement. We hear of how the impatience for change from some youth factions of the civil rights movement manifested into violent direct action and the personal and political effect on Dr King. There are a few glimpses into how Dr King may have accounted for his infidelities, to himself if not to his wife Coretta;  like all humans he is flawed and a sinner. Perhaps such an explanation was the only way he could continue the fight, as well as being the sort of self-justification that a man like him might provide.  


dream of a king christopher tajah
Christopher Tajah, photo by Remy Hunter.


Most of us are familiar with Dr King’s major successes. So what was the personal cost to Dr King of his leadership of the civil rights movement? What were his doubts? What were his regrets? How did he manage his real and perceived failings? Who were his heroes? I think I will leave that up you to find out by going to see this superb production,  which Christoper Tajah, Paulette Tajah and the Director Bernie C Byrnes have ensured  is worthy of Dr Martin Luther King, twentieth century icon.

Dream of a King is at The Playground Theatre from 14 to 18 January 2019. www.theplaygroundtheatre.london


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