Review: ear for eye, Royal Court

ear for eye, debbie tucker green’s new play for the Royal Court is ferocious and uncompromising and challenging and quite often breath-taking

“This is harder for us than it is for you”

debbie tucker green’s new play play ear for eye is ferocious and uncompromising and challenging and quite often breath-taking. Tackling the current state of racism in both the UK and the US, a triptych of wildly diverse parts bind together green’s innate linguistic power with an acutely pointed experiential style and a determination to really make you listen.

Played at two hours without an interval, green thus presents us with what it is to be black today. The first is a tangle of overlapping voices, mothers advising sons how to deal with contact with the police, victim of harassment, activists looking to galvanise the struggle. Scenes are repeated in different voices, viscerally contrasting those experiences (particularly when the hand gestures scene is replayed with BSL).

Then we switch to a tightly wound duologue (Lashana Lynch and Demetri Goritsas, both excellent) as a black student talks, discusses, argues with a white professor about the violence meted out by white men in school shooting and bombings etc. She’s adamant it is indicative of systemic, structural racism, he’s sure they’re all lone wolves, but the power dynamics here are astonishing as we’re swept right into the maelstrom of mansplaining mendacity as he battles to exert his authority.

Finally, the third section is a filmed segment, white people reciting the horrific detail of some of the Jim Crow laws, seemingly the basis for segregation in the US. And lest we British get too complacent, it is followed by extracts from UK slave codes, tracing the historic links of these pernicious rules, literally codified into society and seemingly impossible to shake off. It is hard to take and that is pretty much green’s point (and why there’s no interval to slope off shamefully). 

green directs with laser-like precision, Vicki Manderson’s movement creating beautiful tableaux as the sixteen-strong ensemble endlessly switch and reconfigure. And Merle Hansel’s monolithic set frames this opening sequence with real visual flair, under Paule Constable’s elegant lighting choices. ear for eye is as challenging as theatre gets, as art gets, but make no mistake as to how vital it is. (And what a year Kayla Meikle is having!)

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
eye for ear is booking at the Royal Court until 24th November

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Jodie Whittaker more than lives up to expectations as Doctor Who in Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth – plus Bradley Walsh may well make you cry

“Half an hour ago I was a white haired Scotsman”

“Change my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon”. From the mouth of the Sixth Doctor himself, the very nature of Doctor Who (both the programme and the Time Lord) has always been its infinite variety. So it’s about bloody time that we now have the first female in the role – the excellent Jodie Whittaker – as new show-runner Chris Chibnall makes his definitive mark on the BBC serial.

And on the evidence of this first episode (and, let’s face it, to anyone with common sense), the Doctor’s gender is of little consequence. The ability to act as if you have two hearts knows no bounds, who knew, and the hints of Whittaker’s Doctor that were allowed to peek through the regenerative funk suggest we’re in for something of a real treat with an effervescent sense of personality shining through. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida

“Give me the history of the Congo in four and a half minutes”

There’s an ingenious moment in the middle of They Drink It In The Congo when a PR guy has to step in for an ailing colleague at an imminent press conference and utters the line above. The answer he gets exposes not only the vast complexity of the socio-political issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also the way in which Westerners seek to reduce them to manageable soundbites so that they can be dismissed as problems easily solved
Which in a nutshell is the key issue at the heart of Adam Brace’s new play for the Almeida. Aware of the impossibility of doing Congolese history justice in a couple of hours, he approaches the issue from an alternative angle, the impossibility of “doing something good about something bad”. Daughter of a white Kenyan farmer, Stef now works for a London NGO and is excited to be given the opportunity to organise ‘Congo Voice’, a new arts festival raising awareness of the issues there.

What seems like a golden opportunity is soon revealed as highly problematic as ensuring the steering group is at least one-third Congolese poses a challenge, reconciling different wings of the Congolese diaspora in London proves even more difficult once an anti-government militant organisation becomes aware of the plans and hovering over all of this, personal demons from the past haunt Stef’s actions and throw questions over her true motivations. 
It’s an interesting route into a difficult subject and Brace’s use of black comedy makes it a devilishly good watch, even through the occasional longueur which the vibrancy of Michael Longhurst’s production can’t always disguise. But with a dynamic original score by Michael Henry played live by a band of three onstage, a fiercely committed company of 12 multi-roling very effectively and Jon Bausor’s design taking the Almeida in the round and down, it’s an enjoyable play. 


Fiona Button’s Stef is an intriguing character, her liberal intentions exposed and excavated as a strikingly Pepto-Bismol-coloured ghost stalks her (Sule Rimi’s Oudry doing great physical work here), Anna-Maria Nabirye is superb as a woman caught between her heritage and her future and Richard Goulding’s desperate ex is a perfectly pitched source of comic relief though even he is outdone by a brilliant scene of Pythonesque farce as the would-be militia lead by Richie Campbell’s Papa Luis try to film a threatening video clip. 

Brace’s writing is pleasingly complex too, no easy answers provided here, just a roll call of indictments from the first colonial interlopers through to voracious modern-day consumers who are stripping Congolese mines of the rare minerals needed for smartphones. A free sheet is handed out as you leave, offering plentiful sites of further information and the success of They Drink It In The Congo is that it makes you realise that this homework is worth doing.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 1st October