‘Henry Box Brown’ adapts the true story of a slave who mailed himself to freedom, rendered through glorious vocals and ensemble numbers.
It is a piece that emphasises the importance of liberty, and the obvious toxicity of the horrific conditions in which prejudice perpetuates oppression, creating an overall well-performed production that has genuine heart. Furthermore, it does not over-sentimentalise the success of its titular character; just because Henry escaped, and escaped with the help of well-meaning and abolitionist white people, does not mean that the brutality of slavery has been destroyed, or racism solved.
My only wish is that the show went on to discuss what happened later in Henry’s life. A large portion of the show focuses on his relationship with a woman called Nancy who is later sold away, and after that event she is rarely relevant to Henry’s narrative. Henry also went on to become a magician in real life, which is a fact that seems so far removed from the experiences detailed in this production, and I think it would have been valuable to see how he develops his reputation and livelihood now that he has become free.
Confident and clear, ‘Henry Box Brown’ illuminates an unknown chapter of history in a way that invites you to look deeper into the past.