A man who is a fishmonger by day is turning into civil rights leader Martin Luther King by night to imagine how he felt on the last night of his life and the lessons that can be learned in the current climate of violence in the city, writes James Twomey.
Christopher Tajah, 46, from Crystal Palace, is a part-time actor, part-time fishmonger at Morrisons supermarket and has created a one-man show called Dream of a King about Dr King’s final hours alive.
Christopher said: “Martin Luther King is an icon and a massive hero of mine, I was researching about him and it became a passion, I decided I should turn my research into a one-man show.”
Christopher has to switch from being in the mindset of a fishmonger – where he is known as the ‘singing fishmonger’ – to becoming one the most famous men in history which, he says, is a big challenge.
He said: “It’s really tough to go from fishmonger to Martin. Every day I go into the supermarket and I love that job, I love preparing fish and I’m always singing, but when I leave it’s a massive transformation.
I become 100 per cent Martin on stage for 90 minutes. “I have to be totally committed to King’s power, engagement and his oratory so the fish is actually a nice distraction.”
In the play, Christopher explores King’s state of mind on the night he was assassinated when he stayed at the infamous Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.
Christopher said: “I try to imagine what Martin felt. There was a lot going on in 1968 when he was assassinated. He had been in the civil rights movement for 13 years by this stage and he had gone through a lot.
“There was a new wave of civil rights leaders and his popularity was waning, the focus and determination of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers was at its height and he was tired.
“He had just given one his most famous speeches, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, where he strangely foresaw his near death and says ‘I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.’
“So he’s just given this speech and he’s alone in his motel room, tired, worried about his mortality and he has the FBI on his back – this room is a sanctuary and it allows you to get to know Martin.”
Christopher says that although it was not necessarily intended, the play feels very relevant to what is going on politically and socially, here and in the USA.
The rise in knife crime in the city over the past year has disproportionately affected black people and in the USA the Black Lives Matters movement has highlighted the number of black people that are being killed.
Martin Luther King was well known for his anti-violent approach to securing civil rights and Christopher believes that example is being forgotten and needs to be followed.
Christopher said: “Where’s our humanity gone? Young kids are killing each other. There’s a lack of humanity so we need great people like Dr King, which is what gave me the passion to write the play.
“What Martin did and said still resonates around the world and the echoes remind us that we haven’t moved on that much as a society. Understanding Martin’s philosophy shows us you can’t solve everything with violence, there are lessons that can be drawn on that remind people of peaceful negotiating.”
Christopher’s sister Paulette Tajan is also involved in the production as a singer at the beginning and end of the production.
Paulette said: “It’s an incredible journey for Christopher and his debut play Dream of a King.
It’s been phenomenal to witness Christopher bring King to life, the iconic and flawed man, which we can draw so much from and apply our communities today, I feel privileged to be a part of this epic piece of drama.”
The performance has received positive feedback, with Christopher being nominated for an Off-West End award for Best Male performance.
One the of the productions was also attended by the High Commissioner of Jamaica, Seth George Ramocan, who said: “An extraordinary performance by Christopher Tajah that you won’t want to miss.
Filled with talent, laughter and intrigue that brings to life the rich history and legacy of Martin Luther King’s mission to advance the rights of black Americans.”
Christopher will take to the stage as Martin at the Waterloo East Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to the Bridge House Theatre in Penge from March 21-24.