Sticks and Stones
The Tristan Bates Theatre
Anyone sceptical about the problem Britain faces from racial prejudice should take a look at the police statistics for hate crime in 2019. The number of offences logged by police has doubled since 2012–2015; three quarters of these are race hate crimes, of which some 36% are race hate violence.
If the problem seems obvious to many of us, the response can be more difficult. In a powerful sixty-minute play, Sticks and Stones takes us to a school faced with complaints about a series of social media postings by a white staff member, Tina, the school's acting catering manager.
She claims they are either jokes or merely something posted to her which she passed on, nothing serious and anyway staff know she is okay with everyone. And indeed, Afua, the mixed heritage member of management tasked with letting Tina know she is suspended pending an investigation, has a picture on her desk of her and Tina out socialising. They have been to each other’s homes and Tina has babysat Afua’s son.
But Afua takes things very seriously, pointing to a few of the postings such as the supposed joke which read, “nearly knocked over a black lad the other day. Lucky he opened his mouth or you wouldn't see him in the dark.”
Afua argues such things contribute to prejudice and bring the school into disrepute, adding that a number of them would be regarded as race hate crimes by police. All of which Tina dismisses with her repeated line that, “a joke is a joke is a joke.” But as she becomes more defensive, her arguments get more troubling. She claims “people feel they are being pushed out of our tradition,” that she is now the ethnic minority in London and worse, as a working class woman she is bottom of the pile.
It’s an intense, riveting performance. with Eva Fontaine as Afua increasingly exasperated by Catherine Harvey as Tina, who shifts from being the warm, smiling friend who just doesn't seem to get what is happening to become angrily defensive and prepared to physically fight for what she feels is being taken away from her by “posh” middle class people like Afua.
There are growing numbers of Tinas in deprived communities across the country, meaning no harm, even as they help feed the prejudice that can hamper the lives of ethnic minorities. Too many schools and other workplaces do nothing about it and even those that try, like the school in the play Sticks and Stones, are often just shifting the problem elsewhere.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna