Bringing untold stories from Black British History to life

  • Date

    Mon 27 Sep 21

Image of actress in theatre show about slave trade abolitionists

A unique theatre show about slave trade abolitionists is going on tour this Black History Month.

The immersive theatrical performance, co-written by East 15 Acting School theatre maker Dr Holly Maples, aims to educate the public about Black British history and the UK slave trade and will tour eight different locations.

Breaking the Silence, created by Collisions Theatre Company in partnership with Dr Maples and researchers from Brunel University London, aims to raise awareness of the 18th Century Slave Trade in Britain.

It will be performed at eight historic churches across the UK which have close ties to the slave trade and abolitionist movement. Each performance will incorporate site-specific alterations relevant to the location.

Dr Maples won a University of Essex Research Impact award for the project in 2020 and the tour was originally scheduled to take place in June of the same year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now is an interesting time to be doing the tour,” she said. “Black Lives Matter revealed a lack of public understanding of British black history and the role of British slavery abolitionists.

“We need to champion these leaders and make the public aware of the past. It's about raising awareness of their history. The stories we are telling are about really exciting Black British leaders – they weren’t just victims but were also heroes.”

The play, written and directed by Dr Maples, and historian Dr Inge Dornan from Brunel University, presents untold stories by British Caribbean slaves and Black British abolitionists.

The play fictionalises a meeting by key members of the 18th and early 19th century British abolitionist movement. It celebrates abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, and women such as Mary Birkett Card, who along with William Wilberforce used the power of their stories to end the slave trade. Through speeches, personal narratives, and song, it tells their stories in their own words.

Dr Maples wrote the script using archival and historic documents on the slave trade and also used theoretical research on decolonisation, immersive performance, and the performance of public history.

She will be using the tour to inform her research on decolonising heritage sites. She will evaluate audience experiences to conduct more research on the performance of memory and collective trauma and identity around the slave trade in Britain.

“I am a performance-based researcher investigating the use of immersive and embodied sensorial experience in the public's engagement with history and collective memory – particularly in relation to troubled histories,” Dr Maples explained. “This is all about bringing history to life and changing the way people experience it.”

The tour starts on 2 October in Morecambe and visits Liverpool, Fulham, Hampstead, Soham, Manchester and Bristol before ending in Nottingham on 21 October.

The project is funded by Arts Council England and Unity Trust in collaboration with Brunel University London and the University of Essex.

For more information on the tour, and to book tickets, visit