Debbie tucker green delivers blistering insights into racism in the west. Elsewhere, joyous teenage kicks and a gasp-out-loud denouement
reviews debbie tucker green’s ear for eye at
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, London SW1; until 24 Nov
Theatre Royal Stratford East, London E15; until 17 Nov
Hampstead, London NW3; until 24 Nov Audiences at the Royal Court are particularly attentive. But they seldom get up on their feet to applaud. Yet on the press night of debbie tucker green’s new play there were whoops… an acknowledgment that the stage had had a wallop. That here was a dramatist (directing her own work) who was not trying to persuade or cajole but to effect a gear change. Not saying: look at it my way. But saying: this is how it is.
ear for eye, which garnered some publicity for not wishing to say anything about itself in advance, is not shy about its intent. In two hours straight through, divided into three giant slabs of action, tucker green proves that if you have a black face in a country run by people with white faces, you struggle to be seen or heard. This is not only harshness but blindness, deafness.
Paule Constable’s lighting is an essential dynamic. It begins by casting a mist over the stage, so that the waiting cast seems enormous. Then it limns characters – sons and mothers, friends, young women
– so that they appear as luminous cut-outs. Their exchanges are drummingly intense: about the difference between progress and change; the pointlessness, or not, of marches; the impossibility of being regarded truthfully. There is a masterclass in judging people by gesture. An exchange between a mother and son shows how every possibility is damned: raised hands are threatening; hands in pockets are concealing; looking at your inquisitors is confrontational; looking away is evasive. Where more telling to go into all this than in the theatre?
Part two features a confrontation between a young black woman and an ill-defined, know-all bloke (the only white character). They are discussing a mass shooting, and what counts as a political act. A combination of dense argument and simple characterisation makes this the least revealing part of the evening: the insistent beat of tucker green’s writing, sometimes drilling, sometimes hypnotic, almost trancelike, gets jammed in a repeating groove. But it is part of a rising momentum, a curve which leads from not seeing to obliteration.
A final section made up of filmed accounts by white people of Jim Crow laws and slave codes has no commentary. None is needed.
Ellen McDougall has brought a particular glow and sharpness to the Gate in Notting Hill, where she took over as artistic director last year. Now she is sending her flare and flair across the stage at Stratford East. Hurrah for Nadia Fall, the new boss at the Theatre Royal, for summoning McDougall to direct The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe’s debut play, which premiered in New York two years ago.
The “wolves” are first seen in silhouette: spiky, running figures, like warriors on a Greek vase. They are first heard in spurts of
‘A masterclass in judging people by gesture’: Shaniqua Okwok, Seroca Davis and Kayla Meikle in ear for eye at the Royal Court. Photograph by Tristram Kenton