Tomorrow Is Not Promised
New Slang Productions, The Lowry and Sustained Theatre Up North
The Lowry, Salford
New drama was one of the causalities of COVID. Producers, not unreasonably, felt that the best way of tempting audiences made timid by trauma back to theatres was to offer old favourites which had proved popular in the past. However, there may be green shoots of recovery poking through the COVID permafrost—Hope Mill is offering a wide choice of new shows and Tomorrow Is Not Promised is the first play as part of the ‘developed with The Lowry’ programme for some time.
However, the way forward may not be smooth. Tomorrow Is Not Promised, although not promoted as such, turns out to be a preview with Davina Cole performing script-in-hand. Looking on the bright side, which may—or may not—be a theme of the play, this approach accords with the abstract, artificial atmosphere established by writer-director Tian Glasgow.
The title suggests the play is intended to address uncertainty in contemporary society. The opening supports this conclusion: a Protagonist (presumably unnamed to serve as an everyperson and played by Davina Cole) awakens after an earthquake to find her home destroyed. Carrying the door to her former dwelling and sometimes in the company of Suzanne (Chisara Agor who also composed and plays the music for the play), the Protagonist meets with, and considers if she can help, others and debates if she should accept assistance from her family.
Tian Glasgow sets a remote tone suitable for a fairy tale as if the Protagonist is setting off on a quest for meaning or journey of discovery. Stella Okafor-Ross’s lighting is minimal and stark: a series of bulbs along the floor possibly illuminating a pathway for the Protagonist. Agor’s music is highly atmospheric—an eerie, otherworldly tone.
Glasgow’s script is lyrical but dense and crowded. The characters address practical issues—whether charity should be limited to physical assistance or extend also to emotional comfort—alongside abstract concepts. One character finds a home to be less a place of shelter and more a barrier to forming connections with other people and so deliberately allows the walls to fall.
The characters are unrealistically stoic, seemingly unaffected by the trauma of a near-death experience and perceiving the loss of their homes not as a disaster but as an opportunity to start over. They become, therefore, more an articulation of the viewpoints of the author than real people. The Protagonist serves also as narrator—describing and commenting upon events. Dialogue is delivered in a remote, cool manner which makes it difficult to separate profundities from trivialities.
The play is full of ideas which crowd in on each other; as you are trying to work out the meaning of one speech, you miss the start of the next. Although there are plenty of individual ideas, there is not an overall concept or goal towards which the characters may be moving. The conclusion suggests the purpose of the journey was to prove to the Protagonist the need to form, or mend, emotional connections with her family but it is hard to be sure.
Whilst Tomorrow Is Not Promised raises plenty of ideas, a crowded script limits the extent to which these can be considered in full while the abstract atmosphere hinders the establishment of an emotional connection with the characters.
Reviewer: David Cunningham