FringeReview UK 2021
Living Newspaper #7
Royal Court Theatre
Genre: Breakin’, Contemporary, Cue Scripts, Dance, Drama, Feminist Theatre, Film, Mainstream Theatre, Music, Musical Theatre, New Writing, Online Theatre, Political, Scratch Performance, Short Plays, Solo Performance, Solo Play, Storytelling, Theatre
Written by Blessing Adetunji, Fatima Kazmi, Tyreke Leslie, Naomi Lundie-Smith, Sam Pickering, Taichi Shinokubo, Ruby Stokes
Designed by the Design Collective (Shankho Chaudhuri, Debbie Duru, Cara Evans, Sandra Falase, Zoë Hurwitz, Chloe Lamford) – Edition 7 is led by Sandra Falase and Zoë Hurwitz
Lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun
Sound design by Helen Atkinson, Tony Gayle
Composition by Renell Shaw
Movement direction from Yami Lövfenberg
Facilitators and directors for Edition 7 Vicky Featherstone, Jasmyn Fisher-Ryner, Romana Flello, Ellie Fulcher, Ellie Horne, Ola Ince, Myah Jeffers, Philip Morris, Hamish Pirie, Vishni Velada-Billson
Filmed by Oliver Bury, Ben Harvey, Adam Hipkin, Dan Hipkin, Holly Hughes, Joey Julliard, Hugo Maher, Adella Tucker, Oliver Wilson at Tea Films
Till May 9th
The seventh Living Newspaper is a postlude to the whirligig Royal Court collective of recent weeks, focusing here on seven young writers aged between 14-21.
Such enterprises used to be trumpeted as welcome to the future – though in an increasingly cramped, betrayed world of expression, there’s lockdown too, especially designed to screw your teens up. In. a world of spiralling mental health crises and suicide, the end of a pandemic’s an equivocal place. Freedom explodes, but you might just implode too.
Throughout its seven episdoes, Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative has been a gift to writers, actors, directors. Sheer storytelling’s necessarily the backbone in these shorts: resolution signals wildly to be let out.
Each week the diverse sub-edits as it were produce the ‘Front Page’ item, the ‘Con-Troll Room’ and ‘The Weather Room’ slot for a particular take.
With just seven sole-authored pieces this week not all the usual slots are taken, especially as one’s duplicated. So it’s intriguing to see how each writer and team responds to that brief.
Blessing Adetunji, Fatima Kazmi, Tyreke Leslie, Naomi Lundie-Smith, Sam Pickering, Tiachi Shinokubo, Ruby Stokes
Composed and Written by Renell Shaw
The Front Page
Final, final Front Page is joyousness inflected by the consequences of lockdown on younger people. Renell Shaw’s high energy boppy music for Lockdown FM is memorable and as you’d expect jabs with adrenalin. Naturally it bites.
The effect of lockdown on young lives, on mental health at a crucial time in anyone’s life, is the subsong hitting out from the refrains. Shot as ever in the Downstairs there’s more a fug of clubby lights and the sort of fog you stagger from.
It’s performed by the seven dramatists themselves and four actors: Blessing Adetunji, Vinnie Heaven, Tyrone Huntley, Fatima Kazmi, Tyreke Leslie, Naomi Lundie-Smith, Frances Mayli McCann, Yasemin Ozdemir, Sam Pickering, Taichi Shinokubo, and Ruby Stokes.
The Weather Room
We’re in what looks like an aquarium of marker-penned balloons and then other junked worlds, of telephones; a cornucopia of dreck. ‘Identity’ and work to buy…. dreck. That bubble reputation… ‘Stop trying to be perfect… you don’t need to try to be special, because you already are….’
A paean to anti-capitalist living, it works because the conviction’s fresh. At 1’39” too it’s the shortest piece since one of Caryl Churchill’s slivers. It’s voiced over with a perfect arc of conviction by Sam Crerar.
Drunk in the dream wave
To a nightmarish nag from her mother, Yasemin Ozdemir’s Carmen wakes to herself telling her she’s still in a dream and she has to wake up. Sinister 1940s spiv-garbed Alistair (Luke Newberry) is not to be trusted. Smooth as he is on a very non-1940s set of dance moves.
With a vanished father and a mother mentally distressed Carmen’s only got her dream of her childhood telescope and the stars to talk up to. What happens if they talk back? And what can she do for her mother?
Small screens glint. If we’ve followed the series, we know where we are. This shadowy production is atmospheric and sulphurous too. Pace is tight, themes wrap in seven minutes.
It’s a dilemma for many young people. Lockdown’s affected mental health in the UK more than most countries (largely due to government ineptitude and eleven wasted years). With parents and adults often affected in many cases it’s doubly a nightmare cycle for the young.
Fine truthful acting from Ozdemir; Newberry’s sinister spiv (a bit like the lowering older man in Marc Almond’s Tainted Love) emits a vocal inkiness, tweaked.
Class and gender come with two pints of lager and a packet of crisps in the Court bar. In Paths; Unparalleled Ruby Stokes displays acute political and topical antennae.
Indeed the only slight hesitancy lies in the title – which gives no clue to the work’s fluency and raw panache. And its annealing capacity to meld disparate news to a personal position.
Frances Mayli McCann’s not posh; the boy (with only a couple of lines, luckless Luke Newberry) despite his fake yahs is as posh as Johnson’s wallpaper party and we’re soon into the corrupt race report too.
As for the privileged in the news this week. ‘Our lines are parallel and will never cross… ‘. Except one’s pre-printed and the other takes a lifetime to engrave.
Such lines as ‘let me walk you home’ get deconstructed with a vivid take on male ownership of women, how gender perspectives barely shift. McCann delivers this with a confiding kick – as if she’s lived all of it. Newberry knows how to play a thankless supporting role.
Stokes already possesses an alert voice. It’s a short step to creating drama from such a thew of polemic.
The Blank Space
We’re in that blank space with a lot of bright things – often hearts – and a four-piece band: two whirling routines, one drumming one performing. It’s a fast furious delivery where there’s a sudden apotheosis and a wasteland of white.
It’s a whirligig of wonder in five and apart from the strong simple text with a memorably delivered refrain, one of the most vital and transformative performances of any text this week. It’s performed by Kemi Awoderu, Tyreke Leslie himself as poet, Frances Mayli McCann and Musician (Drummer) Remi Graves.
The Long and Look Long Listen
Lars has doubts as to being anything more than being average as a writer. Luckily there’s a warm friend to push back. The best line is ‘I can’t believe that – you just stomped out a vape!!’ Pickering’s best suit lies in following these witty flukes, these quiddities.
Apart from the split photography – a beautifully multiplex affair – with all the talk of legacy, the forest of post-its on the wall behind in pastel shades, it’s fairly clear where this might be taking place. It’s performed with vitality and mesmerising conviction by Sam Crerar and Vinnie Heaven.
The Long Look and Long Listen
Beyond Touch (of a) Screen
Time to walk out of that fourth screen wall. Kemi Awoderu and Tyrone Huntley are a possible couple starting to date as the end of lockdown looms. ‘When left to my own devices I felt the old vices within’ Huntley declares.
A visually tonal split between performers’ backdrops, filmed in alternating violet and burnt orange, emphasises separateness; though there’s an outdoors in natural light – including an angle shot vertically down from the mezzanine. Air, freedom’s analogue.
Performances are recognizably gendered: Huntley offers a still, hypnotic delivery, Awoderu a slinky shimmy – snapping to with vocals.
Desire and uncertainty circle each other much like the potential lovers. ‘To be a ten out of ten on the 21st’ the young woman’s monologue, anxiously, deftly sexualised, chimes with Awoderu’s dancing. Huntley’s character absorbs male nostrums with a shiver of doubt. For both you feel, it’s a slice of yes.
Jemima Mayala’s character is on a Victoria Line tube to Walthamstow. She’s been on a scholarship to a good school for a year, but feels she shouldn’t be there, with all the posh friends back from the continent sneering. ‘I’ve been in the jungle’ is her riposte.
But there’s more. She’s met someone and doesn’t want to leave the season. There’s something to say. Right to the end of the line.
This is another piece you feel might develop as a monologue of around 30-45 minutes, or even as a radio drama. Mayala’s beautifully sustained performance is a shrug of resignation, a flinch of anticipation, a small heartbreak
The Court must be thrilled with how not only the Newspapers series, but this week in particular has gone.
It’s good to see the Ensemble in Lockdown FM return in more upbeat force this week, delivering an unshakeable message. Yet another performance to make you wish the world was handled only by those under forty, or even thirty, with advisors aged sixteen.
Elsewhere there’s some exquisite work with brief polemical interludes.
Shinokubo’s Images is one, the briefest of the Newspaper series, affirmative and not unlike Pickering’s Lars: Ulcers which though it’s a more developed two-hander addresses those self-doubts as a writer Shinokubo warns against, though with one or two very funny lines.
Lundie-Smith’s summer friends? is a simple tube-bound interior monologue, with great strength in detailed exposition and slow reveal. There’s a truth about this that lingers, a residual wisdom that makes you wonder how the character will develop.
Adetunji’s Beyond Touch (of a) Screen is another two-hander which does the same for that teen couple who’ve hooked up on screen and want to meet on June 21st. And touch. Of the four, though a simple proposition it’s the most convincingly developed, alongside the simpler format of Lundie-Smith’s.
Kazmi’s Drunk in the dream wave is one of the most affecting and stratified, invoking just such character-driven complexities. It’s the most deeply experienced, the most empathic and trans-generational, and the most suggestive play this week.
Stokes’ Paths; Unparalleled is the most alert polemically and politically, a sheerly ferocious tour-de-force, both satisfying and scintillating linguistically – blow-torch good. It’ll be fascinating to see Stokes develop dramatically what she delivers artistically.
Leslie’s Heartband is a showstopper of delivery, where the writer seems to have performative input. Being a performance poem it works perfectly on its own terms, though like Stokes it’ll be fascinating to watch Leslie shift from art to drama.