I was recently lucky enough to be able to preview the first part of Strikes Back Productions’ exciting new project, Black Lives Playlist: Track One. Written and directed by Sam Spencer, it takes the form of a short, half-hour-long film made up of a Zoom-style conversation between student Terri (Kaitlin Horton-Samuel) and ‘the caller’ (Seun Matiluko). One may think we’ve all had enough Zoom calls to last us a lifetime, but a combination of Spencer’s knack for dialogue, as well as clever production and direction, ensured that the piece never came across as stilted – if anything, the sense of containment only served to build the incredible atmosphere that developed. Props and setting were used thoughtfully to add a level of necessary depth to what might otherwise feel two dimensional. This is a piece not to be missed – it lulls you into a false sense of security and holds you in suspenseful grip for all too short a time.

Both Kaitlin Horton-Samuel and Seun Matiluko give admirable performances, subtly and intuitively giving life to their opposing characters, Horton-Samuel conveying her increasing discomfort palpably, while Matiluko is unhesitating in her anonymous, yet all-too-familiar tone. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to discuss the film with Spencer, who said that writing these incredible characters ‘felt like splitting [himself] into two halves’, evident in the sense of dichotomy and division throughout.

Themes of heritage and history abound in this production but are wonderfully interwoven, rising and falling naturally as the plot and conversation develop. The production features an all-Black cast, which gives it a natural sense of authenticity given the focus on black narratives. This on-screen diversity is something Spencer stressed was particularly important to him with both this track and those that are to follow. Indeed, Spencer revealed that some of the anecdotes and moments that make the script so rich were in fact inspired by his own personal family history. 

The early version I was able to view did not include the film’s soundtrack, and I’m excited to see how it will further add to such an emotive and captivating production. Spencer said of the soundtrack: ‘We have sourced a number of black singers to recreate “Oh Freedom!” – a now-popular gospel song that was first sung on slave plantations. This score uses this song as a basis, mixes it with strings, some electronic bass grounds, along with sounds taken from gardening that will – to the keen ear – evoke the sense of plantation labour. This has all been done by our amazing composer, Georgina Lloyd-Owen, who is currently training at Abbey Road!’

Discussing his writing and inspiration, Spencer was clear that he knew what he wanted the play to be when he began writing during the first lockdown, which then coincided with the murder of George Floyd, further motivating him. He then went on to use drawings and storyboards to map out the plot; this careful and considered approach is reflected in the fine line the film treads between feeling natural and yet perfectly orchestrated. Despite light beginnings and understated humour early on, the film undeniably has an element of horror and darkness running through it. When I asked Spencer about this, he told me: ‘I absolutely love films like Midsommar, Hereditary…’, and went on to express his love for the tiny details that make these films complete, which inspired him to employ similar techniques in his film.

Overall, this is a truly memorable film experience – for a piece 30 minutes long, I have little doubt it will stay with me for a long time to come. The wonderful cast and crew have come together to create something unique, thought-provoking and ultimately captivating.

Black Lives Playlist: Track One premiers via an online link on Sunday the 9th May at 8pm. 

Riana Modi

Riana (she/her) is Editor of Chorus Arts Magazine, and a third year Classicist at Jesus. When not trying to digest ancient texts, she can be found editing the Turl Arts Magazine, writing and producing plays, taking long walks around Oxford and probably eating cheese.