 Su­san­nah Clapp

Deb­bie tucker green de­liv­ers blis­ter­ing in­sights into racism in the west. Else­where, joy­ous teenage kicks and a gasp-out-loud de­noue­ment

The Observer - The New Review - - Agenda - Su­san­nah Clapp

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

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