Views: On this week’s global protests

People of all colours and backgrounds around the world have united in peaceful protest at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police, yet another in a long line of killings in the USA all centred around race.

Racism is a cancer which cripples our society’s growth. Peaceful protest is understandably a significant way for people to express their grief and outrage. But it’s worth remembering that, as well as protest, there are so many other actions we can take which will also bring about change. And in my own opinion, education will play a major role in the way forward.

That is why I am asking you to support progress in a very specific way.

You and I know that theatre is a powerful educator. When theatre comes back – as it will – we will need all those companies who have produced radical, challenging and exciting work around the black experience to be primed and ready to leap out of the starting gate.

If you, like me, feel that you must contribute to the protest in some way, but feel that you haven’t quite found your own way in which to do this, then do something different. Donate! In particular, donate to the many excellent theatre and arts companies which are producing great work in sharing and exploring the experiences of People of Colour.

In the UK

Donate to Eclipse Theatre, who produced and toured a terrific play in early 2020, Janice Okoh’s THE GIFT (review here)

Donate to Tamasha and Paines Plough and the Bush Theatre who produced and toured Zia Ahmed’s I WANNA BE YOURS (review here)

Donate to The Bush Theatre, who have produced Temi Wilkey’s THE HIGH TABLE with Birmingham Repertory Theatre (review here)

Donate to The Young Vic which produced the UK premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning FAIRVIEW (review here)

In the UK and internationally

Donate to Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway’s (founder of award-winning ARTISTIC DIRECTORS OF THE FUTURE organisation) new project BEYOND THE CANON to draw students attention to literary diversity by championing hidden and forgotten plays written by Black, Asian, LatinX and Middle Eastern playwrights by making these texts available to students in the UK and internationally during the hiatus in global education systems. This is a brand new project today and I am thrilled to have been the first donor- so who will join me? Donate here

In the USA

Donate to award-winning Chicago playwright Reginald Edmund’s BLACK VOICES BLACK WORDS INTERNATIONAL project.

Whilst this is my own personal selection of my own recent engagements and experiences, I appreciate that there are many other great organisations which I haven’t highlighted here, so if you know them better than I do, why not donate to them also?

Change is coming, and you can help drive it. Use your money as a way of planting seeds of hope and thought for the future, to help these organisations’ contributions to conversations about important work flourish and grow. And hopefully to lead us all into a more enlightened and caring world where difference is no longer hated but celebrated.


The Young Vic’s A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

Gillian Anderson (All About EveThe X-FilesThe FallSex Education) plays Blanche DuBois with Ben Foster (Lone SurvivorKill Your Darlings) as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby (JulieThe CrownMission Impossible) as Stella.

As Blanche’s fragile world crumbles, she turns to her sister Stella for solace – but her downward spiral brings her face to face with the brutal, unforgiving Stanley Kowalski. 

This critically acclaimed production was filmed live on stage at the Young Vic in 2014 by National Theatre Live. 

The show is available until Thursday 28th May at 7pm

GUIDANCE: BBFC rating 15 when released in cinema. Contains scenes featuring sexual violence and domestic abuse.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the National Theatre – or text NTATHOME 10 to 70085 to donate £10 – to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed.

VIEWING PERIOD ENDED


Review: FAIRVIEW

FAIRVIEW runs at The Young Vic until January 23rd 2020. Details and tickets here

IN BRIEF Radical, provocative play which quietly wields its power to change minds

I love a play that gives you homework.

The setting is a manicured suburban American house where the inhabitants are a black family who are preparing for ….Grandma’s Birthday. Yup, a setup that was creaking with age way back in the 50s when Lucy was still mocking Ricky’s Cuban accent. This? This won the Pulitzer?, I sat there thinking. The script ploughs along – it’s almost like an 80s sitcom.

In fact, it takes a while before things start to get interesting. But when it does, well, hang on to your headgear.

In order not to spoil the show’s surprises I must limit my words, for this is a show that deserves to be discovered on its own terms.

The subjects raised are race and racism and how the projections of stereotyping and ignorance have placed an overwhelming pressure upon black people. Only the youngest member of the family, daughter Keisha is not yet fully tainted, carrying the hope of change, and so she becomes a sort of conduit between fantasy and reality. As the show progresses it becomes “infected” by outside forces and it escalates into bizarre territory before being re-grounded by the daughter who initiates a brave coup de theatre which pulls the show’s title sharply into focus and sends the audience out quietly buzzing.

The ensemble work is excellent from the cast who work tightly throughout this challenging staging. Particularly memorable is the young daughter Keisha (Donna Banya) who literally closes the show on her own. Director Nadia Latif has worked with great care to ensure that audiences can still piece it together despite the text’s challenging and fragmented nature. In my one small criticism, I did feel that the middle section of the script was rather too unstructured and it flailed about before finding a way to its conclusion.

As a wake-up call this works superbly, but it says so much more. This is daring, disturbing, radical theatre that challenges – and then changes- the way that you think, and I recommend it to you.

FAIRVIEW runs at The Young Vic until January 23rd 2020. Details and tickets here


Theatre FootNotes for May 2019 – a brief summary of other theatre events in my diary

DEATH OF A SALESMAN at The Young Vic

This was always going to be a big event, so my opinions are small beer to the attendant PR tsunami. I saw this show at the first preview, another reason not to formally criticise or rate before Press Night. However, just briefly, this was already in tip-top shape from the start. Elliott and Cromwell’s idea of making the Lomans African American (which has been done before) was interesting but perhaps not quite as ground-breaking as some might have expected. Having said that, the entire cast give studied, committed performances, the standout for me being Sharon D Clarke as Linda Loman, her grinding quiet hopefulness weighted by years of neglect and disappointment, given outlet through her religious/spiritual singing. The use of music was interesting but not again quite as revelatory as one might have been built up to expect from this director team. Running time was spot on first time, with the high standard of professionalism one has come to expect from this team. Impossible to give it less than four stars.


THE FIRM at Hampstead Downstairs

Roy Williams’ play has much to say that is significant and timely. A gang of villains – the Firm of the title – meet up again over a decade after their last job, and time has changed them all significantly. “We’re not the Firm anymore…more like the Infirm” quips one character bitterly in probably the best joke in the show. The various arguments and revelations as they wait for a fifth member who never appears, highlights the long-term damage done by absent fathers, broken families and the threat of gang culture which seems so smoothly to be replacing the family unit. All this is terribly important in our country today, and the themes that Williams explores are vital and engaging and he is no doubt sincere. However, the swaggering, homophobic, loud and violent men-children characters who populate this play make it hard, if not impossible, to care about these people. For me, frustrating. The play, which ran 90 minutes straight through, had a stylish “bar” set from designer Alex Marker.


DON’T LOOK AWAY at The Pleasance Downstairs

An obviously well-meaning and earnest play about an asylum seeker gets sidelined and ultimately, sunk, by too much plot, including domestic drama and unnecessary distractions in this 90 minute play from NOVAE Theatre, a new sister company to the brilliant Idle Motion. The gritty reality of the subject isn’t really aided by some inter-scene expressive movement work which tries to explore the tension between the characters but feels a bit out of place. The piece didn’t add up and left this viewer somewhat confused and dissatisfied with a very double-edged ending, although there was some good acting by Julia Barrie as the cleaning lady.

Venue Note This venue is not audience- (or actor-) friendly. Five minutes of the play were drowned out by a motorbike revving-competition immediately outside the un-soundproofed doors of the studio, the rest of the running time underscored by singing and shouting from the drinkers in the bar next door, which made it impossible to concentrate on the play. Top marks here to the actors for not being fazed by this unacceptable distraction, which was hugely disrespectful to the performers. If you ever see a show advertised in the Pleasance Downstairs Studio, please think twice before booking!