Tag Archives: national theatre

Review: People, Places and Things, HOME

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People, Places and Things by Duncan MacMillan

HOME, Manchester [27.09.17]

We’re looking at a big, white, lidless, front-less box with a crepe paper-esque back wall. The walls have a tiled effect and a padded air about them. This isn’t the best way to debunk the cliches that surround rehab and psych treatment units but still lets hope what follows is somewhat of an improvement.

Our piece begins with a barrage of sound that can only be likened to being in the middle of an augmented reality of a wild, 90s version of laser tag. We are then dropped into a replica of Chekov’s The Seagull. We are here only briefly until Nina has a nose bleed and time splinters and changes.

People, Places and Things is an exploration of a woman’s drug and alcohol addictions and, her journey through rehab. Though Emma is quite the comedian, there is clearly something very dark and unsettling bothering her. We first encounter Emma as Emma in a reception area. She is on the phone quite frantic giving instructions to the person on the other end about things they need to do in her house. She spends a lot of time calling this person a cunt. It turns out to be her mother. Very affectionate.

But of course, this heart warming moment is disrupted by a half dressed man with ‘the end’ written across his chest, charging into the reception, shouting and ready to fight a nurse with a chair. To shut him up, they give him an injection and plonk him in a wheelchair. Yes, all the mental health stereotypes alive and kicking. Just what we need more of…

Emma is a compulsive liar. She lies about her name. She lies about her life. She’s an actor and so there’s an argument that she lies for a living. Emma has a lot of blackouts and one suicide attempt under her belt. She also has the sense of humour that only forms when you’re sick of tired of being asked whether you have plans to harm yourself and how you’re feeling today. Sarcasm is her vice – it’s almost as important for her functioning as the drugs are – potentially more.

Emma never finishes anything. Violin lessons, diets etc she just doesn’t follow through. And this is the quality of Emma that is most relatable – addict or not, mental illness or not – we’ve all got a back log of things that we never managed to finish or didn’t have the motivation to follow through with. And it is this universal quality, that can make Emma’s story accessible even if you’ve never experienced addiction and mental ill health.

We watch her journey through rehab: rubbing people up the wrong way, falling off the wagon, hating everything group based, denying needing help and eventually embracing the support of her group and practitioner. But most importantly, we see her realise that it’s not about ‘being fixed’, it’s about being okay with ourselves and addressing things that have impacted who we are and how we function. None of us our broken. Some of us just need a little extra help to realign ourselves with our surroundings and work through things that have affected us.

Lisa Dwyer Hogg gives an incredible performance as Emma. She animates and embodies Duncan Macmillan’s words with skill and control. The character of Emma is well formed and developed however, the same cannot be said for some of the other characters in this piece. Many of the rehab participants felt quite hollow, as did the character of Foster at times. It was disappointing that all of the people of colour within this production played some of the seemingly less developed characters.

Verdict: Some strong performances and important themes but too many cliches and stereotypes.

 

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Review: My Country, HOME MCR or Anti-Black Propaganda 101 or Is Shirley Bassey Even Welsh?

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My Country by The National Theatre

Directed by Rufus Norris; Poetry by Carol Ann Duffy

HOME MCR, Manchester [22.04.2017]

As a black-mixed, british person, I’d just like to say, what a load of old tripe that was! Filled with anti-black, right wing propaganda from the off – this is a concrete expression of how Britain attempts to derive its ‘greatness’ from basking in its ‘lets just brush it under the carpet’ afrophobic rhetoric, mixed with a superiority complex.

My Country is a verbatim piece of theatre about the UK’s decision to exit the European Union. It shares real people’s stories, through seven characters who represent: Britannia, Caledonia, Cymru, Northern Ireland, North East, East Midlands and South West. The National Theatre team who went out to conduct these interviews ‘nationwide’ clearly didn’t travel very far or rather they only ventured to a handful of Virgin train stops. And as for their sampling method, they picked up a few token brown and black people (mostly men and with right leaning opinions) to make this top heavy piece seem representative… in all of its white supremacy. The fact that the company failed to include a black person in their cast but wanted to create a piece that represents this country demonstrates why as a black person in the UK, you are not british by design.

I do not agree with most of the views that were aired in this piece. However, I recognise that this is verbatim theatre and so it’s going to air an array of views and stories, from real people. But, there was no balance here, which makes no sense given that leave or stay was close to a 50/50 split. The major problem was that there were lots of views describing non-white and/or non british people as: terrorists, benefits scroungers, rapists and non-english speakers, not conforming to british culture (to name a few), but virtually no stories/views conveying them in a positive light. Even the views aired by POC interviewees are relatively anti-immigration. This is just another piece of propaganda to replace the buses that promised £350 million to the NHS.

But what really struck me was the clear lack of platform to black women’s voice – misogynoir really reared its ugly head here and it has not gone unnoticed. Black women’s voices are continually erased and, to not seek out the views of black women for this piece of theatre is damaging but unfortunately not surprising. This is the reason that platforms such as No Fly On The Wall and Galdem exist – to give space to black women and to challenge racist patriarchal structures.

In terms of the direction of this piece, there was very little – lots of sitting at desks and occasionally standing up to have an argument. My year 7s could have done a better job than this! Though to be fair, some direction did occur when each representative decided to share an item that represented their area and do a little dance. Of course, there was a bit of Irish dancing (his legs weren’t straight) and some Morris dancing. But the party really started when Wales began dancing to Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey and the man sat next to me said very loudly: ‘is Shirley Bassey even Welsh?’ Yeah, that sums it up really.

My Country is a play that failed in so many areas: the direction, the production, the research, the casting, the poetry… oh and whilst it managed to platform the views of Farage, May, Cameron and Johnson, it couldn’t possibly include any left or liberal views, could it? I guess we all know, how this came about.

Verdict: I gave up my Saturday night to watch some anti-black nonsense and experience a stranger’s out loud confusion over Shirley Bassey. This play brings nothing to the table that you can’t already find on Facebook – if you need to refresh your memory, just re-add all the people you deleted when Brexit made its debut. The National Theatre needs to check itself, seriously (and maybe go back into education to study research methods).

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