Vivian’s Music, 1969 bears comparison to both Anne Frank’s Diary and The Color Purple. In 1969, in the American town of Omaha, a fourteen-year-old black girl called Vivian was shot by a white policeman. She was unarmed, and was given no orders to freeze or stop; she took the bullet at the back of her head and died instantly. Within six months, the policeman was acquitted. Vivian’s death sparked riots in the state.
Art has a way of bringing history to life. In this play, we follow a fictionalised version of the young Vivian as she is growing up; her relationship with her mother and sister, and her desire to meet her father. Played by Kailah S King, Vivian is instantly lovable – full of love for music, with a crush on her boyfriend Dwayne, and the wonderful promise of her whole life ahead of her.
Russell Jordan plays her dad Luigi, who is stumbling through his own life, trying to save his mum’s jazz room from going bust while navigating existence as a clever black man in a white man’s country. The production is quietly disturbing, bringing to light the realities of systematic racial discrimination through the eyes of the victims.
There are no props – only King, Jordan, and an absolutely brilliant script by Monica Bauer. Bauer's storytelling is poignant and evocative. It doesn’t need any explicit references to Black Lives Matter, but through its telling of a real-life tragedy, clearly demonstrates the need for a peaceful revolution as well as reminding everyone to check their privilege. I am left with a sobering thought of how little seems to have changed from 1969 to today.
Yet that darkness is balanced well against two positive emotions – the light-heartedness of the father-daughter duo’s love for jazz, and the simplicity of a teenager’s first love. The script is also clever in that the two central characters only meet for about a minute about midway, yet their lives are indelibly linked together.
If there is only one show you see in the last weekend of the Fringe, make it this one. It is historical theatre at its absolute best.