Living Newspaper Edition 6

Pamela Carter, Hester Chillingworth, Tim Crouch, Molly Davies, Amy Bethan Evans, Robert Alan Evans, Stacey Gregg, Rose Lewenstein, Simon Longman, Rory Mullarkey, Lettie Precious, Pavel Pryazhko (translated by Sasha Dugdale), Testament, Joe Ward Munrow, Kit Withington, Rachael Young
Royal Court Theatre
Royal Court Theatre

Dorcas Sebuyange in Street Cred Report Credit: Helen Murray
Lara Grace Ilori in Pixels Credit: Helen Murray
Tim Crouch in Horoscopes Credit: Helen Murray

On the 31 March 2021, the government released its Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) report. Steve Bell’s April Fools Day cartoon depicted a banner outside of No 10 emblazoned with the words “Black Lives Have Never Had it so Good” and Edition 6 of the Living Newspaper featured the black Dorcas Sebuyange, herself a poet, performing the sarcastic Street Cred Report by the Hip-Hop Beatboxer Testament. She says, “if the Cred report were true, all of a sudden masters would get a different point of view... the establishment is cool, Britannia still rules and blacks, we’re very disappointed in you. Prejudice is a myth, discrimination old news, institutions are clean, police and the school spotless washed white by Boris and the crew. We can join hands and sing, in the words of Dr Tony Sewell, blacks need to embrace middle class values.”

The fantasy imagined in the government’s report is very different from the view we get in Rachael Young’s Pixels where a young black woman (Lara Grace Ilori) is asked, “how have you been sleeping,” to which she replies, “my routine has been unwanted wake-up calls delivered by anxiety daily at 3AM.” Of the future, she admits she is “sick with uncertainty. The future will be laced with violence like a lit match to another Grenfell Tower. The future will be borders and victim-blaming, being murdered by those who are supposed to protect us. It will be taking away our rights to protest. It will be versions of the past presented as the future.”

There is a much more sombre mood to Edition 6 along with a general shift away from political engagement compared with earlier productions of the Living Newspaper. Much of this mood centres on grief and loss. Three Pictures by Robert Alan Evans takes us to a woman (Louisa Harland) we never see, who has just returned from a hospital. She describes three pictures by her twelve-year-old daughter who she says will never be able to finish them. One shows a dog digging a garden for bones he gnaws on, a metaphor for the impact of a mother’s loss.

A man (Alan Williams) sitting on a bench is missing a woman in Simon Longman’s Someone Stares at a Dog for a Few Minutes, and Has a Think About It All. He never moves, his face is a picture of intense sadness, his voice-over admits to smashing a window the night before. “I don't feel anchored now, I feel adrift, unfettered.”

In I Don’t Even Know What To Call This Shit by Lettie Precious, a woman (Michelle Tiwo), still grieving a father dying of COVID, is also angry about the continuing class and racial disparities.

COVID is what has prompted the call a 73-year-old woman (Marion Bailey) receives from her daughter (Louisa Harland) in Adventures Before Dementia by Molly Davies. Had she been standing too close to an unknown man on her doorstep? A concerned neighbour had phoned her daughter about it. The woman insists, it's “none of your business”. Though she is careful, she “misses touching people”, is “not fearful” and intends holidaying in “Cracow. Perfect for my adventure before dementia.”

No words are spoken in Hester Chillingworth’s Mi casa es su casa in which the person (Nando Messias) sitting on the steps of the Royal Court Theatre shows us messages that seem directed to an individual written on paper, cardboard and his body “I think I still love you... Want U here .. You still have keys ... Door is always open.”

In a much lighter vein with comic visuals that undercut the words, Rose Lewenstein sings Life is Difficult and then you die.

Not every piece from Edition 6 is bleak. Pamela Carter gives us a man (Sule Rimi) in you, me—the market who riffs on what might be a very personal loving monologue that increasingly feels like someone selling a financial investment opportunity.

Stacey Gregg’s flicking the shamrock gives us an insight into one of the little known complications of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland that instituted briefings to be accompanied by sign language interpretation in Irish Sign Language (ISL), the system used south of the border, and British Sign Language. It takes the form of a conversation between Amanda Coogan, who has attended Stormont as an ISL interpreter, and the BSL interpreter Rachael Merry.

This edition’s agony aunt is Neurodiverge-Aunt by Amy Bethan Evans in which the problem page is hosted by Cian Binchy who says, “neurotypicals have been struggling during lockdown. They have been struggling with the kind of thing we have been struggling with for years. I will do my utmost to help.”

Tim Crouch gives a strong performance in a peculiar Horoscope as a face-painted Viking wielding a red baseball bat as he runs through each star sign, hyper-criticising weaknesses. He asks, for instance, does the knowledge that the star sign Gemini includes Johnson, Trump and Prince Philip “permit you to discriminate against injustice, to lie bully and demean, to ignite nationalism, xenophobia, racism and sexism?”

Among the sixteen pieces in Edition 6 is a gentle eulogy to the pub whose name forms the title of Kit Withington’s Our Moon Under Water. It is a lyrical homage to the life of a community that finds its way into a public house. “The loud and larger than life, lingering and lost, the tired and tiresome, living in the dead, all of us will rally in this place.”

The Royal Court theatre's Living Newspaper has been a remarkable achievement. It will have included 312 freelancers of which 92 are writers and 90 are actors. Importantly, it has engaged with the issues that are troubling the UK and has often given voice to those who have been ignored, persecuted or abused by the powerful.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna