debbie tucker green
Bristol Old Vic Studio and touring

Production photo

"Death used to be for the old," laments a grief-stricken young woman in debbie tucker green's arresting one-woman show, Random, currently running at Bristol Old Vic's Studio. Having played to critical acclaim at the Royal Court earlier this year, Sacha Wares directs Seroca Davis in this revival.

There is no set here, only the stark black box of the studio and a single spotlight. Davis stands centre stage and begins by scanning the audience, meeting each of us with a steely gaze - even a few late-comers. She takes on the role of all four members of a London family and, in just under an hour, recounts the events of one awful day with words so moving and with delivery so affecting that by the end, the performance is punctured by muffled sobs from the audience. Rarely have I felt so wrenched by a drama.

This muscle of this play is that it portrays an all too brutal reality. This is just an ordinary family: hard-working, close-knit and loving. The parents' lilting poetry makes it evident they are Caribbean, first generation immigrants. Son and daughter are every bit the London teenagers. And the single and random act of violence that afflicts them, happens all too often in cities all over the country.

Davis' crisp and easy naturalism draws you in: the son who is reluctant to get out of bed; his father, a shift worker and a man of few words, but a good, honest and caring man all the same; his straight-talking mother and his easy banter with his sister; these are intensely recognisable, likeable people and the heart-wrenching clarity of Davis' performance makes their four distinct voices sing, leaving you feeling you have genuinely encountered four entirely separate individuals.

So the tragedy, when it comes, is unbearable. Worse is the sense of outrage when a police officer delivers bad news and then casually asks the daughter whether her brother was a gang-member: he wasn't. Of course he wasn't - but he was a black, inner-city teenager and the victim of a knife crime; it's all too easy an assumption for society to make. There is a sense in which it helps soften the blow for the nation if knife crime can be neatly associated with gang culture; it helps us distance ourselves, so that we can turn a blind eye to its senseless, random nature.

Tucker green makes certain we confront the stark reality of the issue, and of the media's role in perpetuating it. We share the family's anger as a camera crew gathers at the street-shrine, honing in on the hardest looking hoody in the crowd, only to lose interest when they realise that the hood in fact hides a stream of tears.

This is beautifully written, powerfully delivered, vitally important theatre which will leave you confronting some uncomfortable questions.

Runs at Bristol Old Vic Studio until 12 June

Reviewer: Allison Vale

Are you sure?