Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London ****
Review: by Carole Woddis of performance seen Nov 1, 2018:
There is no one quite like debbie tucker green, no one writing with the same urgency, disquiet and plain brilliance for adjusting and changing forms. Excepting perhaps Caryl Churchill with whom she shares so many affinities in terms of political content and experimentation.
tucker green’s ear for eye shows an even more painful, acute attention to a zeitgeist of a running sore, namely the consequences of and contemporary experiences of racism and racial discrimination, going back to its origins insofar as Britain and the US are concerned – ie slavery.
In some senses, ear for eye could be seen as a companion piece to Anna Deaveare Smith’s extraordinary Notes from the Field earlier in the year.
Where Deaveare Smith explored educational failures ending in disproportionate imprisonment and criminalisation of African Americans, projecting them through a myriad number of characterisations she undertook herself, tucker green penetrates even further into the mindsets of those at the receiving end and presents them, each, as individual testimonies.
tucker green’s genius is in how she frames dialogue. Like a piece of choral music, she is the orchestrator of a complex weaving and counter-weaving of dissonant and compellingly complimentary notes – sometimes chant and response, sometimes staccato, sometimes a largo.
An account of how one young Black British man ends up in a cell, treated humiliatingly and being asked to strip, becomes almost an elegy.
But in an opening encounter between African American parents and their son, in which the mother explains how the slightest gesture can be interpreted, will be interpreted, along a spectrum from `provocative to `confrontational/aggressive’, with a hundred nuances in between, it is a sound amounting to a litany of stinging, tiny wounds.
Men, women, young, old, British, American – tucker green’s ear and eye roams into the bitterest reaches of a people against whom injustices have been perpetrated for over 350 years. Now, as ear for eye eloquently and painfully explains, the anger at the lack of change is spilling over. The marches, the demonstrations, the protests are no longer enough to keep the rising tide of outrage in place.
Couple after couple, an elder and a younger, show an adult trying to quench the anger of the younger, trying to teach them to be patient despite the tear-gassing, the stop-and-searches, the numerous inhumanities.
In an echo of an earlier riff when Tosin Cole’s pent-up, volatile young American questions Nicholas Pinnock’s older man as to why he shouldn’t take violent action, `Gimme a reason to not,’ in the play’s slightly anti-climactic final words, he turns again to the adults and repeats the question. The answer is eerily, silence, and a sudden, strange ending to what has been two hours of explosive rhetoric, argument and counter-argument.
Nowhere more so than in two outstanding speeches/encounters amongst almost uniformly gut-wrenching accounts.
The first sees Angela Wynter in a monologuic tour de force, `we was here’.
`Before’ should be a set text for all schools, putting in context the modern history of our world in 200 lines or so. And a reminder of a world before the white man conquered it…
`Before the sun got cold (and) turn’t the
skies to grey…
Before the wind got busy and rain decided
It couldn’t be fucked to fall.
Before the seasons decided they weren’t
we wasn’t worth the effort
we weren’t worth changing for.
Before the green grass browned
Before the concrete could warm…’
And so she goes on until almost the final `I was here.’ Although, not quite. A younger woman says, `it’s not a competition…’
If it was…we woulda won.
Only shit we woulda won.’
ear for eye is described as being three parts, compressed into two hours. Part 2 brings us into another context of racial discrimination. The silencing.
If Part 1 shows us how African-Americans and Black British are silenced by every physical gesture/movement being capable of re-interpretation, if necessary, of aggression, Part 2 shows a verbal silencing.
In a searing forty five minute duo, a white expert or therapist/mentor/analyst/ psychologist is analysing the latest American shooting incident. The white male keeps returning to `specifics’, constantly over-riding his younger African-American female junior – a model, paradigm of psychological and verbal humiliation, brilliantly manipulated by tucker green which could be read not just as white-on-black abuse but male-female.
Anger, humiliation, silencing, counselling of the older to the younger to be patient, tucker green concludes in Part 3 with chilling, indeed appalling examples of cruelty taken from British, American and French slave codes.
Filmed on camera and read by ordinary members of the public, it’s clear, as if we needed reminding but still 350 years later, the truth hasn’t really sunk in, that African slaves were treated worse than animals.
It’s hard to find words, too, superlative enough, for the performances from ear for eye’s cast who deliver their various speeches with furious discipline in a production by tucker green creating both a sense of the ominous in its design and yet a music lightness.
To say one comes out stunned would be something of an understatement. At two hours without interval, it is demanding and not without some repetition. The ending too, as mentioned, comes as an anti-climactic dying fall.
But what a conscience-pricking, outrage provoking piece of work by all concerned. How their patience has endured this long I’ll never know.
ear for eye
A new play by debbie tucker green
Son (UK): Jamal Ajala
Young Adult (US): Tosin Cole
Friend: Seroca Davis
Dad (UK): George Eggay
Male (Part 2) (US): Demetri Goritsas
Woman (UK): Michelle Greenidge
Man (UK): Eric Kofi Abrefa
Female (Part 2) (US): Lashana Lynch
Son (US): Hayden McLean
Young Woman (US): Kayla Meikle
Friend 2: Shaniqua Okwok
Adult (US): Nicholas Pinnock
Mom (US): Sarah Quist
Mum (UK): Anita Reynolds
Dad (US): Faz Singhateh
Older Woman: Angela Wynter
Writer/Director: debbie tucker green
Designer: Merle Hensel
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt
Movement Director: Vicki Manderson
Assistant Director: Anthony Simpson-Pike
Casting Director: Amy Ball
Costume Supervisor: Lucy Walshaw
Deaf Consultant: Deepa Shastri
BSL interpreters: Chris Curran, Sula Gleeson, Naomi Gray, Anna Kitson, Alison Pottinger, Beverley Wilson
Dialect Coach: Hazel Holder
Music Director: Michael Henry
Writer/director: debbie tucker green
Producer: Fiona Lamptey
Director of Photography: Joel Honeywell
Editor: Mdhamiri á Nkemi
1st Assistant Director: Yasmin Godo
1st Assistant Director: Kenny Lozyniak
First perf of ear for eye at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, Oct 25.
Runs to Nov 24, 2018.
Review posted on this site, Nov 3, 2018