Gifted young pianist Toye (Samuel Tracy) is pushing leaflets into his classmates’ hands: “Come to our history talk, get our vision 20/20!” With his best friends, the quietly determined Asha (Sara Hazemi) and quick-witted head girl Remi, Toye is fighting to get Black British history taught in classrooms through lunch-time DIY lectures on unsung historical figures. Their school pushes back, the trio’s friendship becomes strained by questions of activist best practices, and all the while Toye is studiously ignoring a looming piano exam for a fancy private school and the fact that his father’s health is rapidly deteriorating.
This new play by Dipo Baruwa-Etti, brought to the Fringe by Paines Plough and Rose Theatre Kingston, opens the door to weighty, nuanced discussions of allyship, representation and leadership, but it resolves few of the characters’ emotional arcs. Tracy portrays Toye as earnest and convincingly teenage, but the student’s conflicting yet under-explored ambitions strip the long-awaited audition of any remaining tension. An explosive fight with Remi, played with clear-eyed resolve by Princess Khumalo, has few consequences, and the frail, ghostly presence of Toye’s dad feels similarly brushed under the rug. A foundation of powerful performances, warm direction from Kaleya Baxe, and smart, simple staging means that Half-Empty Glasses could easily hold more – or less – plot and feel all the fuller for it.