There are several peaks and notable features in debbie tucker green’s ear for eye that rise above the lengthy exposition of her themes that otherwise dominate this new work.
Absorbing theatre with powerful insights.
The veil of secrecy that surrounded it is now lifted at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court. The piece is tightly structured with a large cast. There are three parts and an epilogue, although the latter consists of only two lines, each repeated to leave a hauntingly goading and sombre finale. Each part could easily stand alone, yet there is an overt connection that when combined turns them into a triangulated appreciation of the historic roots of endemic racism and how people of colour in both the USA and UK currently have to live and deal with it.
Part One has twelve scenes and fifteen characters. The ensemble configures itself with the movement of chairs and in turn various groupings perform vignettes. In a less tragic context the comedic opening would be genuinely funny, except that the boy (Hayden McLean) asking his mother (Sarah Quist) what he should do with his hands portrays a real concern and issue when a young black man is confronted by law enforcement officers and every movement, every gesture and every nuance of body language is open to misunderstanding. Later we’re shown by Jamal Ajala how much more difficult this becomes if you’re deaf and your means of communication is the very thing that can get you into more trouble. An eloquently piteous monologue from Eric Kofi Abrefa highlights the no win custody situation in which the victim becomes a plaything in the hands of the powerful. Along with the protest scenes and tear gas this opening chapter highlights the importance of language both physical and spoken; the pitfalls of speaking out and the consequences of saying nothing; the interpretation of movement and misinterpretation of meaning.
That said and the unsaid are vital tools in green’s construction of this drama and nowhere is this more evident than in the abruptly contrasting Part Two. Demetri Goritsas, the only Caucasian actor, plays the overpowering, white, blinkered know-all immersed in his theoretical studies who hears but doesn’t listen to how an African American woman (Lashana Lynch) seeks to understand and explain a mass shooting in the local high school by two white boys. Ingeniously placed on opposite sides of the revolve, the circular motion of the stage reflects the nature of the conversation. Lynch battles away and at times becomes incensed as the words of the non-conversation go around in circles, her case is undermined and the acceptance of white supremacist rage is denied.
Part three exclusively employs film. Some fifty-five Caucasians speak in two scenes. The first consists of lines from the apartheid-style legislation that was passed in many southern states of the USA as recently as the 1960s; the second is a sharp reminder pof the UK’s direct involvement in slavery with a series of statements taken from Jamaican laws and manuals detailing how slaves should be treated, which really meant legally abused. It’s a compelling juxtaposition that brutally erodes any holier-than-thou attitudes that might exist on this side of the Atlantic.
It’s a tough, demanding and uninterrupted two hours fifteen minutes, but nothing compared to a lifetime as a person of colour in societies still dominated by vestiges of white colonialism and racist laws in countries where underlying prejudice continually rises to the surface and people seem increasingly empowered to vent their antagonistic emotions. If laboured in parts it is still absorbing theatre with powerful insights.
Note debbie tucker green's use of lower case reflects the artists choice.