‘I am the slave ship. Wrecked. Empty. I am a shark, livid with the desire for blood. I am the sea, boiling with fury.’
On the set of a new film about Victorian artist J.M.W. Turner, young actress Lou is haunted by an unresolved history. Meanwhile, in 1840, Londoners Lucy and Thomas try to come to terms with the meaning of freedom.
Moving between London past and present, Winsome Pinnock’s astonishing play retells British history through the prism of the slave trade. Fusing fact with fiction, and the powerfully personal with the fiercely political, Rockets and Blue Lights asks who owns our past – and who has the right to tell its stories?
Winner of the 2018 Alfred Fagon Award, the play opened at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, in 2020, directed by Miranda Cromwell. It transferred to the National Theatre, London, in 2021.
‘Rockets and Blue Lights places at its center one of the nineteenth century’s most famous paintings: J. M. W. Turner’s “The Slave Ship”. Moving between several sets of characters and ranging from the 1800s to the present, this intricately plotted drama compels us to confront the horrors of our shared past. It does so with compassion and wit, never once compromising Pinnock’s vision of theater as the communal creation of new, stranger, and perhaps truer histories’ Windham-Campbell Prize committee, on awarding Winsome Pinnock a Windham-Campbell Prize for Drama in 2022
‘A swirling journey through the light and shade of black history’
‘A deep dive into the murky waters of the legacy of Britain’s role in the slave trade… The rich depth of Pinnock’s writing… It is an ugly truth, but, somehow, Winsome Pinnock has made it beautiful’
— The Stage
‘Ambitious and complex… beautifully held together by the poetry and quality of Pinnock’s writing… an astonishingly beautiful and emotional coup de theatre… conjures the ghosts of the past and makes them powerful and engrossing in a theatre, here and now’
‘Powerful, hard-hitting… urgent and important… also startlingly funny in parts’
— Evening Standard
‘Inspirationally ambitious and all-encompassingly humane… Bravo’
Alfred Fagon Award