All of Us at the National Theatre
Francesca Martinez, best known as a standup comedian, makes her playwriting and acting debut with a social drama denouncing austerity. Commissioned by the National Theatre, All of Us challenges the way people view disability and draws attention to the damage inflicted by an increasingly insensitive system. It was due to be staged in March 2020 and although the delay due to the pandemic was a setback, it has only made the play more relevant and urgent.
Martinez plays protagonist Jess, a young woman who, just like the playwright herself, is of Spanish descent and has cerebral palsy (although she prefers the word “wobbly” to describe her condition). Jess is a therapist who helps others overcome their addictions and mental health issues; she is financially independent, has a PhD and drives a car, but she needs help in everyday tasks like eating, walking and getting dressed. Although her condition is permanent, she is reassessed time and again to check for “improvements”, so that assistance (and costs) can be kept to a minimum. Jess has a hard time expressing her needs and so she doesn’t make a fuss when they take her vehicle away. However, when she meets the outspoken Poppy (Francesca Mills) and then attends a town hall public meeting, she can no longer ignore the unfairness nor find excuses for the government’s negligence that leaves many begging for basic needs.
A play of huge significance from a social perspective, All of Us is based on real-life situations and helps the audience get an idea of struggles that are rarely addressed in mainstream media. As a theatrical piece it perhaps falls too neatly into boxes: its characters cover a wide range of issues (such as PTSD, alcoholism, OCD and LGBTQ-related problems, to name a few) and its messages are spelled out too plainly. There are many clichés that make the story feel less authentic, and the episodic nature of the plot, coupled with the fact that the stories borrow from genuine experiences, gives the production a documentary feel – but this doesn’t make it any less engaging. All of Us is a warm and sobering account that perfectly succeeds in its intention to shake up stereotypes and raise issues that are vitally important.
All of Us is at the National Theatre from 27th July until 24th September 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.