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Above, Alex Wheatle reads from 'Cane Warriors' to members of the creative team at The Lyric Hammersmith (L-R Kenrick Rowe, Deborah Baddoo, Keisha Grant, Alex Wheatle, Theophilous Alade, Michael Joseph, Alan Weekes

Cane Warriors

In 2023-24 State of Emergency is to work with Beckford’s Tower, Bath on the development of a unique and powerful performance of the novel ‘Cane Warriors’ by Guardian Prize winner Alex Wheatle MBE. ‘Cane Warriors’ tells the story of Tacky’s Revolt or Tacky’s War, a slave uprising that took place in Jamaica in 1760. Significantly, slaves from William Beckford’s Esher estate joined in the rebellion which almost engulfed the whole island. Alderman William Beckford, one time Lord Mayor of London, was the father of William Beckford of Fonthill who built the tower now known as Beckford’s Tower.


For the initial research and development phase, between now and April 2024, State of Emergency will build a team of exceptional performers and contributors, and develop new choreography and music. The project will also include the creation of a virtual gallery and film archive. Performances will take place in March 2024 with Beckford’s Tower hosting the premier performance, and further performances being staged at two other Bath and Bristol venues. This new production has been supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players.


Alex Wheatle, author of Cane Warriors, said: "The real story of Chief Tacky’s rebellion has been passed down through generations of my mother’s family who resided in Richmond, St Mary’s parish in Jamaica – very close to the plantations where Chief Tacky and his Cane Warriors toiled and planned their Easter rebellion in 1760. I was simply compelled to relate this story to the wider world and I’m very proud that State of Emergency will tell the story in the art form of dance. Indeed, the Cane Warriors will be honoured."


State of Emergency’s directors, Deborah Baddoo MBE and Steve Marshall said: “When Alex Wheatle first approached us, nearly three years ago, with a view to our making a dance interpretation of his novel, we didn’t realise what an uphill struggle it would be to achieve funding. Thanks to Bath Preservation Trust, and the synergy between the story and the history of Beckford’s Tower, we are now able to start working on what we believe will be an important work of African contemporary dance theatre. This production will allow us to pursue a long-term artistic vision, which began with the foundation of State of Emergency Limited in 1986, and to hone our skills as directors and performers. For us ‘Cane Warriors’ is the natural progression of all that has gone before.”


Commenting on the new project, Director of Museums Claire Dixon said: “We approached State of Emergency owing to their reputation for delivering powerful performances that tackle challenging social themes, and we look forward to working with them on this exciting project. It will enable us to explore more creative and artistic events, engage new and more diverse audiences, and embed this approach in the new museum programme when it opens in 2024. I would like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and National Lottery players, for their support in helping us to fully contextualise and reconfigure the story of Beckford’s Tower for a modern-day audience.”

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