Review by: Paul Towers, 18 June 2017
A Scholar and a Statesman
Written by Pamela Roberts, directed by Carol Leeming
Attenborough Arts Centre 18 June 2017
“the story of an enigmatic man.”
James Arthur Harley was born in 1873 in Antigua, a West Indian island which has since forged close ties with the UK. Showing incredible ambition for the time he managed to enrol in Howard University in Washington DC before moving to Yale and then to Harvard to study Semitic Languages and thence to Oxford to study first theology and then anthropology. The obvious career path for a man of his intellect was to become an educator of some kind. Instead he decided to join the church and served as a curate in Shepshed before moving to Marshside in Kent with his wife who relocated from Antigua to marry him. Sadly their longed for child died far too early, possibly before or during childbirth, and this seems to have precipitated their eventual separation and his wife’s ultimate return to her family on the Caribbean island. This may also have led to his eventual disillusionment with the church and he returned to Shepshed to serve as a councillor both locally and for the county until his death in 1943.
Pamela Roberts has taken these bare bones of what is known of this local hero and, through extensive research, has pieced together as much as is possible of this enigmatic man and his lifelong battle against racism.
Directed by local dramaturge Carol Leeming, this staged reading sought to display the written words of the play before an audience for the first time. The cast of 7, some experienced actors, some not so, brought the story to life in the minimal setting of one of the Attenborough Centre’s versatile spaces. Led by Corey Trevor as Harley and Mumba Dodwell as his wife Josephine the cast gave spirited readings from the script. It would be very interesting to see this brought to a stage in a full production.
More background to the project can be found at http://bit.do/dwME9
First published on Western Gazette