Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative – Edition Two at the Royal Court Theatre
Despite the tough national restrictions, the Royal Court Theatre are determined that their rough, inspired new project will be staged. Now in online-only format, but still transgressing all spaces of the theatre’s interior, Living Newspaper: Edition Two loses none of its variety while tightening its thematic focus.
The power and problems of political activism are this counter-narrative’s major strand. While grime MC Jammz and the ensemble cry out for protest in the hip-hop Front Page opening (collectively written by this edition’s 14 playwrights and polemically titled TORY SCUM), the subsequent short plays start to trouble this idea. Yasmin Joseph’s The Long Read (entitled Blood for Breakfast) reflects on the difficulties facing black lives in both physical and media spaces. Through this multi-style play, Joseph pushes back against the frenetic, contingent sympathies of an audience disposed to merely consuming suffering or calls for change.
Likewise, Ryan Calais Cameron’s The Blank Space segment is both an elegiac tribute to the late activist Oluwatoyin Salau and a defiant reproach of “seasonal” white allyship, its evocative physical sequences performed powerfully by Moronkẹ Akinola and Ntonga Mwanza. The Weather Room’s latest monologue-installation, Romy and Me by Ruby Thomas, similarly asks those in the climate justice movement to check their racial-social privilege in its revealing stream of consciousness. There’s still time for a jab at Brexit and the government’s pandemic response: Mark Ravenhill’s Cartoon of the Week (Splendid Isolation) feels horribly prescient after this week’s travel bans.
The project’s satire continues in Anchuli Felicia King’s contributions: Demonstration Demonstration features a wittily ironic take on protest etiquette. The play’s Protest Aunties are given superb revolutionary zeal by Siu-See Hung and Wendy Kweh, with no-nonsense, rapid-fire delivery and sharp comic timing. Almost like guest editors, the “aunties” (represented by the female cast) take over this edition with their suffocating affection and sage seriousness. This framing effectively reinforces that not all familial solidarities are biological – a salient point that is acutely pressed in Emteaz Hussain’s subtle yet piercing monologue Strawberries for the Obituaries slot.
As with last week’s ensemble, the new set of performers excel so that even their hand-held scripts seem to disappear. Meanwhile, the production quality – from the intimate camerawork to the atmospheric lighting design – can be genuinely transportive. After a consistent stream of strong writing, it’s the latter third that slackens the intensity and interest. Despite a sweet, romantic two-hander between Hammed Animashaun and Lisa Hammond in Tom Wells’ Ghosting, the “back page” segments (Horoscopes and Agony Aunty) feel redundant for being merely representative.
Nevertheless, Edition Two demonstrates that the Living Newspaper can be probing, eclectic and challenging in its provocation, rather than merely a theatrical version of The Guardian.
Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative – Edition Two is at the Royal Court Theatre from 20th December until 27th December 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.