Thursday 30 April 2015

Stand – BAC, London

[seen 28/04/15]

Chris Goode’s follow-up to last year’s Edinburgh smash hit firework display, Men in the Cities, is formally about as different as you can get. Where Men in the Cities was a one-man show telling multiple fictional narratives, Stand involves six actors each telling one real person’s story, verbatim. Although, as several of these interviewees point out, it’s not just about them.

It’s also unlike Men in the Cities, in that it’s essentially lovely and optimistic (particularly if you’re a bit of a would-be leftie revolutionary, who, like me, largely never gets round to it, but does however somehow find time to buy property and accrue possessions). If Men in the Cities was about violent, almost suicidal revolution, Stand is about the simple actions and peaceful protests which might or might not work, or even be very “important”, but which nonetheless feel crucial on some much more fundamental level to our society.

Goode’s last verbatim show (his first, I think), collected a range of interviews with children and young people, and before that, he made 9, in which nine members of the community local to the West Yorkshire Playhouse told their own stories. Stand is a verbatim show in which six actors play six people from the community around its own commissioning theatre, the Oxford Playhouse. (If you go in not knowing this I imagine the Oxford-centricity is simply either a little perplexing or largely unnoticable). They are stories drawn from a self-selecting sample of people who responded to Goode’s call for people who have ever taken a stand about something to tell their story.

Throughout all these seemingly disparate pieces, however, is the common theme of a voice being given to the voiceless. “Voiceless” is maybe too grand and too condescending (both generally, and here) for a piece about people who have already volunteered to stand up and be counted. And then volunteered to stand up again and relate that moment or period of standing-up-and-being-counted-ness to members of a theatre company who are going to stand their stories up again and tour them nationally. Nonetheless, it’s the sense that you get. (It is perhaps to this end that Naomi Dawson’s set is such a sober, Question Time-like affair – a sense that these stories are being the national platform everyone deserves, maybe.)

Perhaps inevitably, all the voiceless voices heard here come from a non-defined, compassionate, anarchist and/or left. Were one the critic for the Telegraph or, God forbid, the Daily Mail, one could (myopically) grumble that the “disenfranchised far-right” aren’t similarly represented here (No! Because they’re the people needing standing up against, you dicks). But I think that would be to miss the point. It’s not really a matter of from where on the political spectrum these voices hail – we’re not told a single thing about the politics of the woman who adopts an eight-year-old Russian-speaking girl. It’s merely confirmation bias that makes me think that every word she says makes her full-on left-wing.

[But that’s a bit like that bit in The Last Battle where Aslan claims – in *the most exceptionally racist bit of children’s literature I’ve ever loved* – that basically *everything good* done by adherents of ANY OTHER IDEOLOGY is basically done in his name *really* and *everything bad* done in his name is essentially done in their name. Which is a fabulous way of winning an argument, but an exceptionally starting point for any kind of understanding.]

The fights here are against injustices, on everything from the micro-scale of one girl’s life, through vivisection – the facts of which remain startlingly horrific – and property development, to fracking and the sponsorship of Shakespeare by BP. Cathy Tyson’s character doesn’t specify a particular fight, so much as describe a life of perpetual dissidence, leading to, in the present day, a seat on the local council, which she justifies as a legitimate attempt to do her best to change things for the better.

All these actions are ultimately framed as a question to us in the audience. That if we don’t think things are all right with the world, then what are we doing to change them? The final sniffle-and-gulp-a-bit moment of the show offers the statement that it isn’t about them (on stage), as the lights (Anna Watson) go down on them and come up fully and briefly on us before the curtain call. There’s no more spelling out than that. And there doesn’t need to be. In this, it is a remarkably engaging way of not preaching, and yet leaving a door open as a direct challenge to make things better in the world.


C said...

Good review, but don't you think there were some real class issues here? There may have been a couple of (compulsory) working class roots/troubled childhood narratives, but it was basically just a bunch of middle class people 'doing activism' as a hobby.

I think the piece should've tackled some genuinely challenging questions, such as what the point of this kind of activism is/what real affect it has/why we're in a position where well off, Guardian reading graduates are spending their time campaigning about things that will never personally affect them, when hundreds of thousands of people are having all opportunities and state help slowly eroded away in a way which immediately affects their quality of life, and yet for whatever reason they don't feel like they have any power/desire to protest in substantial numbers (probably because that whole world is just full of hand wringing middle class people worrying about the whole world, and it isn't really a space for working class people who'd like to concentrate on improving their lives in the short term).

The bit where the guy sings the praises of Hebden Bridge... ugh.

Cyrielle said...

I think Chris Goode made Hippo World Guest Book back in 2007 which might have been his first verbatim show.