Maritime Union supports UK Award-Winning Play About Paul Robeson at Fringe NZ

Paul Robeson is a name that would be known to most trade unionists of the older generation, and to many younger ones well versed in labour and trade union history.

One of the most famous artists and activists of the 20th Century, the African American was an international superstar whose name has sadly been all but buried from history because of the threat he posed (through his words and music) to political and commercial elites worldwide.

Paul Robeson had a special connection with Wellington waterside workers, and was awarded life membership of the Waterside Workers Union, now the Maritime Union of New Zealand, during his visit in 1960.

His life story is to be portrayed on stage as one of the highlights of Fringe NZ in an award-winning play to be seen in the Thorndon suburb of Wellington from February 20 to March 1.


Written and performed by UK-based actor/singer Tayo Aluko, Call Mr Robeson depicts Paul Robeson’s remarkable life, with live piano accompaniment. It features many of his famous songs, including the iconic Ol’ Man River, some of his most famous speeches and his defiant testimony to McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee.

Aluko teams up with Wellington musical legend, Julian Raphael, renowned Musical Director of many Wellington ensembles, as piano player for this production.

The writer and performer of the play, Tayo Aluko is based in Liverpool, England, and he sent out a request for support to New Zeland Trade Unions. Two – The Maritime Union of New Zealand and the Public Sector Association stepped up to the plate and provided some very necessary assistance for Mr. Aluko’s trip.

Aluko, who has performed the play around the UK, USA, Canada, Jamaica and Nigeria but comes to New Zealand for the first time said, “It is quite humbling to realise that there are people round the other side of the world from me who like me consider Robeson’s story so important to be told today that they are willing to lend a hand in such a generous way. It is a testament to Robeson’s legacy that such international solidarity can be demonstrated to such good effect. I look forward to meeting MUNZ and PSA members and other trade unionists in the coming weeks.”

Robeson in New Zealand

Paul Robeson travelled to New Zealand in 1960 and stayed here for two weeks and four days. During this time he visited dockside workers in Wellington and spoke out bravely in defence of M?ori and working people.

Robeson’s visit to Wellington, the fiery speeches, and the upflifting songs that were exchanged between the great man and the striking dockside workers are still remembered vividly by former dockside workers in Wellington.

He addressed the Waterside Special Stopwork Meeting and accepted life-long membership of the Maritime Union. This was to be his last ever concert tour.

Reviews and Awards

Call Mr Robeson received a standing ovation at New York’s Carnegie Hall in February 2012.

The UK Guardian’s Michael Billington called it ‘First Rate’.

BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends presenter Clive Anderson described it as one of the most memorable plays he had seen in 2013.

From an international field, Call Mr. Robeson was awarded Best Musical Performance at the Atlantic Fringe in Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada in August 2013. It also won Best Solo Show at the Stratford-upon-Avon Fringe in 2013 and the Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence and the Best Male Performer Award at the Brighton Fringe in 2008.

What some critics said:

“First-rate. A fine job” (4 stars) The Guardian

“Simply told but immensely powerful.” (4 stars) The Scotsman

“A thrilling, moving and marvellously entertaining musical drama. … totally soulful and convincing” Latest 7 Magazine

“Aluko is a force of nature. Never less than utterly believable” (5 stars) British Theatre Guide

“A stunning piece of musical theatre” (5 stars) Fringe Review

“A must-see experience. A treasure of a show. TOP PICK!” D C Theater Scene

Listings Information


Call Mr. Robeson. A Life, With Songs.

Written and performed by Tayo Aluko, with Julian Raphael, Piano.

Directed by Olusola Oyeleye, Designed by Phil Newman


Friday 20 Feb, 8.30pm
Saturday 21 Feb, 8.30pm
Sunday 22 Feb, 4.30pm
Thursday 26 Feb, 8.30pm
Friday 27 Feb, 8.30pm
Saturday 28 Feb, 8.30pm
Sunday 1 Mar, 4.30pm

Show length: 80 minutes (no interval)


The Moorings, 31 Glenbervie Terrace, Thorndon 6011, Wellington

Age Recommendation: 12+


Available at Fringe Office and Eventfinda


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2 Responses

  1. In 1976 and 1977, as a newly minted history graduate of the University of Canterbury, I was asked through a faculty contact if I would conduct some primary research on Paul Robeson’s visit to New Zealand and Australia in 1960. I was fortunate to be able to interview many people who had met Paul Robeson during his time here, including Janetta McStay, his piano accompanist. My strongest memory, however, is talking with Jack Locke of the NZ Communist Party about his experience of meeting with the visiting singer, intellectual and activist. We sat in Jack’s small and rather untidy Christchurch study, listening to the 78 recording of Ol’ Man River that he had been given by the great man himself, and talking about the impact Paul Robeson had made in his addresses to New Zealand workers and unionists. Great to see his contribution being discussed again in New Zealand.

  2. As a 15 year old I met and chatted with Paul Robeson in London in 1949,and as a result of that and seeing the show here in London in October Tayo Aluko and I became friends. Paul has been in my life from birth and now, at 81, a Jamaican friend has asked me to sing ‘Old Man River ‘ at an event she is organizing next month and she reckons it will be awesome! Wouldn’t have had the bottle to do it 4 Months ago and could never have sung in public so I hope she’s right! But what the heck? – I’m ready to give it a go and actually looking forward to it!

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