Fringe Online 2021
Living Newspaper #4
Royal Court Theatre
Genre: Breakin’, Comedic, Contemporary, Dance, Drama, Experimental, Feminist Theatre, Film, LGBTQ, Mainstream Theatre, Musical Theatre, New Writing, Online Theatre, Poetry-Based Theatre, Short Plays, Solo Performance, Theatre
Facilitators for Edition 4 include Milli Bhatia, Ellie Horne, Jade Lewis, Lucy Morrison, Sam Pritchard and Izzy Rabey. Till April 18th.
Living Newspaper is a vital series, a cutting-teeth opportunity for so many writers, actors, directors. Sheer storytelling’s necessarily the backbone in these shorts: resolution signals wildly to be let out.
The fourth series too crackles with satires, fusillades and freedoms – freedom to fail and smash through, satire that turns back and bites itself, fusillades on the right to party and protest – you can’t have one without the other.
But a more elegaic and defiant note’s struck as we move from lockdown to anti-police protests – though interrogating those in authority even more – indeed contemplating lives before and after lockdown. It’s not just long covid but long mental distress surfacing insistently. In Ellie McKendrick’s piece for instance, we’re stepping out of this period altogether.
The formula persists: a collaboration then individual works responding to the way slow defiance unlocks the frozen lockdown. It’s also great to watch every corner of the Royal Court get recruited into short plays, identifying within and without, from lifts, back entrances, rehearsal rooms as well as the two stages.
Each week the diverse sub-edits as it were produce the ‘Front Page’ item, the ‘Con-Troll Room’ and ‘Horrorscope’ slot for a particular take. It’s intriguing to see how each writer or team responds to that brief. Some choose not to use this format.
Caro Black Tam, Stacey Gregg, Tanika Gupta, Ellie Kendrick, Sabrina Mahfouz, Stef Smith. Music composed by Kareen Samara
Crisis After Crisis We Persist
We’re used to each Newspaper opening with a choric summary of this weeks’ themes co-written by many of the writing team and performed by many of this week’s actors.
It’s a rap-led response to police treatment encompassing bLM and the recent protests after the cudgelled vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common. They can’t kill us all, can they?’ contrasts with into ‘they can’ – and furious affirmation. These were the very words this writer was using in a similar piece – it’s clearly what so many feel.
More music follows, less litanic chant than a melody interrupted by a final furious ‘no human is illegal’ and as a megaphone intones to break up the aftermath fines down to an accompanied series of intercut monologues ‘we want our bodies back’ you feel this collaborative effort has legs – both aesthetically and embodying the aspirations of so many as we fade into a superbly uplifting – and defiant – chorus.
Ellie Kendrick Subculture
Kendrick unusually reaches back to 2008 and a young woman beginning to celebrate her sexuality in a queer club without fear, accelerating to 2018 and way beyond to a far older, confident, mildly dismissive woman occupying the same room, and she says she’s not the only one.
Three generations – but who? – bicker and dialogue over how it all happened, or will. Friction’s a start to conversation, confidence.
Performed by Shiloh Coke, Sutara Gayle and Ashna Rabheru it’s a touching often humorous note to future and past selves, how each might have words for the other. And a way to catch herring finally starts to gets answered. It’s a work too that steps out of its wafer confines and will continue to speak long past its occasion here.
Caro Black Tam
Performed by Ellis Howard and Genesis Lynea we’re hurled into an initially failed bill-posting as an Orwellian voice forbids even paper protest prophesying finality, attempting to drown it. The activist’s posters fall down. Peruvian elections in 2020, HIV, and climate justice fight to be heard and slither down like a Sisyphusian task.
As the bill-poster escapes in the lift to a chorus of Peruvian collective triumph it swells to a celebratory act of defiance: voicing the disappeared from all South American countries, of Grenfell, the pandemic, all silenced by increasingly authoritarian regimes. A resistance for the rest of our lives. And it is indeed a memorial, long-term, for three people.
I’m Not Here
The next two works arrive together with tied themes: invisibility. They also feature the Court itself as something of a character. There’s even a shot of the place in early spring.
‘It’s dead posh.’ Ellis Howard’s the Birkenhead boy Jason who’s spotted on CCTV, tries entry at the front and sneaks in at the back, finding respite on the mezzanine bookshop as Jason AKA school-age truant engagingly confides his story – a bit of an open book himself.
It’s a bleak smorgasbord of being left further behind by covid. Jason’s mother a bus driver is wrongly convinced she’s killed off her mother and Auntie Dot. We’re treated to last breaths, Jason’s food bank hunts, the moment when after lockdown his teacher bursts into tears over BLM and feels unworthy. As the only black pupil is Jason’s friend Jason laughs, but is excluded, sent to an exclusion school where he’s good at maths, but denies he can use it. Jason drifts down here.
Howard squints Jason’s face to leer laughter and lostness by turns, flinching his way into the lives of posh others he’s not even meant to glimpse. The way lockdown affects people mentally over different generations – defiant Nan, guilty Mum, exiled son – ends on a note too of being unmeridianed, lost in a space meant for another world. Life after Covid is going on like this. Scram.
The News Stand
More invisibility. Katya Morrison in Court livery is FOH in a fug of phone calls and whilst she interacts with a silent interlocutor we’re treated to her voiceover at the entrance desks, irate with the woman wanting her refund, even more the entitlement junky who’s given £1000, thinks he’s bought her; and that pitying smirk: his daughter hasn’t ended up like that. Morrison emits an almost languid then weary despair. She’s been run off her fingertips.
The scene’s slight surreality militates against this being all it seems, despite clangouring phones including Mum again. Over the desks lies Covid cladding, an FOH mannequin. The Welcome Back sign looks forlorn and premature. FOH being often resting actors – often treated as invisible – it’s an act of acerbic solidarity.
Anyone witnessing the way FOH and staff are treated sometimes – occasionally at the Court, mostly elsewhere – will get this and cheer loudly. Really loudly. They’re often some of the most fascinating people in the building, often between acting in it. And have the best stories.
For those who’ve seen her here, Morrison’s eloquent two-edged voice alters the DNA of that desk for good. This isn’t metaphor we’re told loudly. Yeah, we get it.
Annie Siddons and Rachel Nwokoro
Wisdom Cards Signs for the Divine
Performed by a red-hatted bespectacled Shiloh Coke in a darkened space with cards on a table, we’re back into the horoscopes section, but with Tarot; and it’s serious too, adding other cards and some up-to-date knowledge of astrology. This ‘Fibinnacci sequence of you’ is a performance poem sourcing druids astrology in a performance tracing a slow arch of affirmation as Coke tells the quierant (as the client used to be called) how to negotiate the way we live now.
So you pull out Kate an Epping Forest hermit of the 14th century? Talk to your witchy forebears. Then there’s the Guardian of the crossroads… We’re finally treated to a chorus for one in the performance refrain ‘Shake your stick mama’. Coke cradles amusement in sometimes tragic hands. Another piece that outlasts its crack-open Newspaper origins.
There’s another poetic monologue. Performed by writer Bukky Bakray – and featuring Gloria Obianyo – in the Court bookshop and at FOH there’s a greater sense of isolation as BLM kicks off and a student’s isolated from action. Charlene from Ireland practising Irish, Chris an original Australian. Nigerian relatives anxious for news.
There’s a more urgent sense of danger recalling gun culture: ‘brothers and sisters being scraped off the streets like peach fuzz and period blood’. So get away to – student isolation…
This is a work needing amplification and some structural clarity in its seamless poetic envelope, because it holds stark potential, cramped as it has to be, but highly-wrought. It’s hauntingly fine. Gloria Obianyo’s presence suggests more. One to watch again. And Bakray’s a writer to watch.
Nathaniel Martello White
Jason Barnett’s the oppo in every way to Shiloh Coke in Horroscopes, Agony Uncle AGZ. A discredited preacher or minister. When someone tells you a 0989 number to call you know where they’re at. The way he twirls a tortoise is engaging, but has he lived longer than it? How many lives does a tortoise have? Probably doesn’t total 473.
Martello White’s study of a seller of dreams isn’t what it seems. AGZ abruptly changes gear, riffing on those who complain that a bad play stole two hours of their life they’ll not get back. But how those two hours resonate. Or perhaps a man claiming to be a 473 year old asking for donations to go vegan isn’t quite the charlatan he claims not to be.
A teasing, ultimately agonized staring out at a job description in Barnett’s hands. The backdrop’s like a compacted box of sweets.
Internet Boy (1999-Present)
In a shroud-lit tech corner Patrick McNamee’s Internet Boy smiles out next to a monitor emitting images. He’s a committed hacker into capitalist exploiters like Macdonald’s. He gropes for the language to describe his assault on disaster capitalism, his apologia in continual litany works against something else he keeps trying to bat away: ‘I’m not a bad person.’
So nothing in his wholly solitary life suggests that any meme could have such an effect. McNamee’s crescendo – he manages an effortless shift of register – takes us somewhere else.
The Blank Space
Mirror on the Moor
And there really is one too, as we’re shoved into a looking glass world as a mirror’s perched on moorland – sort of – and when a minister’s reported as having gone into labour, whip-cracking Priti Patel – Stephanie Street – thinks she’s joined Starmer’s lunatic fringe Tory party. Street’s acetylene Patel half-fawns and half screeches. You can imagine it, horribly, in private
Intern Maya – Ashna Rabheru – the warming, quizzical heart of this – has had to steal that mirror from her grandmother. It predicts the next PM. Priti’s keen. So’s Raj Bajaj’s cutely smug Rishi, in a turban – a beautiful preen of a performance, half people-pleaser, half godfather.
And the mirror? The Indian community’s patronised, but all blue Tories worship at this shrine. As two top Tories from the subcontinent scrap out antiphonally vicious virtues, there’s an eruption and a very different character (Ravi Aujla) presents a history lesson with withering authority – Aujla’s stature and vocal register shrink-fits the rivals for PM, much to their chagrin, and we’re treated to a retro-racist outburst. Maya has an ally after all. And there’s a lovely payoff. Rabheru’s Maya slowly blossoms to centre-stage.
Gupta’s neat satire skewers betrayal, of immigrants, of humanity. Patel’s savageries are ongoing, but this week underscores Gupta’s prophesy: that Teflon Rishi’s dish has been scoured: he’s sticking in all the wrong places.
Audio performed by Sophie Melville
The Long Listen
Dots of Death
Stephanie Street’s trampolining for fitness for a reason. She’s a sex worker, railing at the police’s lack of regard for women like her, and as we’ve seen, any women.
She’s felt death three times: a near air-crash; the other two were men, no not clients ‘and I couldn’t think about what I love about life.’ Specialist police officers returning women home in time for the abuser not to notice?
This is a horribly timely piece, just when domestic murders of women are soaring over the three lockdowns. And not just domestic. Mahfouz excoriates the whole police approach through Street’s sex-worker, a normal woman refusing to be labelled. A labelling that’s not only death for sex-workers but all women. As we’ve seen.
Street’s character meditates on how most things die into other uses, except plastic. Even this recycled trampoline emits a bit of death. ‘Each bounce emitting micro-plastic, invisible dots of death. But I’d rather die this way than that.’
A voiceover as a film runs – partly Court, mostly not – introduces three voices: one – Ravi Aujla, looking at the lost people alternates with Ellis Howard, recalling Owen Hatherley’s socialist journeys through ‘low-tech’ cityscapes.
Yet another, Ashna Rabheru, dwells on the fragments of language and solitude itself tries to catch some: ‘We’re fighting over crumbs, that’s the truth of it…. If I hadn’t heard the story I’d wouldn’t have heard the slightest breath of my cheek, a revolution.’
Things have happened before, Aujla assures Rabheru, before he vanishes. Rabheru, Aujla, and Howard – noting the common cabbage white – try to mesh a fragile recognition before blowing part forever. Haunting, beautifully shot and voiced; worth extending.
We’re in a well-stocked bar. Katya Morrison and Bianca Stephens discuss drinking. Morrison’s character is trying to cut down and talk up Scotland, whereas Stephens’ character originally from Stoke envies her her Scottish leader.
They swap informed tales of female leadership. And Morrison heaves up a vast carcass, hacks off some meat. Confit? Dogs bark with anticipation. She invokes her Gaelic grandmother, a matriarch with no belief in happiness. As for her granddaughter her sudden outburst with the meat tells other griefs.
As ever with Smith, motifs and actions at the corner of your eye carry enormous weight, and the set here’s one of the most beguiling. Adding her own oblique tales, Stephens supports the edgy, weaponed Morrison through the agon of Scotland’s latest conflicts and down where they depth-charge something else.