Living Newspaper Edition 3 – Royal Court

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writers: Travis Alabanza, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Nick Bruckman, Anupama Chandrasekhar, Zain Dada, Josh Elliott, Rabiah Hussain, Sami Ibrahim, Karen Laws, Eve Leigh, Chloë Moss, Anthony Neilson, Margaret Perry and Rebecca Prichard

The Royal Court’s superb experiment in collective theatre-making returns for its third edition. The in-person versions were interrupted, along with everything else, as lockdown made a comeback late last year. As with the real press, in the face of a forced move to digital the creators are forced to innovate and here we see this necessity turned to panache with the use of movement, writing and space through the whole of the Royal Court building.

The Living Newspaper is an inventive use of theatre as an art form to report on the most pressing current issues. We’re in a time where constant news-based satirical shows are a common currency across radio, tv and online – it’s about time theatre got in on it.

As we look towards the sunlit uplands of a lockdown-free country, this edition reminds us that a return to normal is something we should try to prevent at all costs. It offers a clear hope of something better in a newly awakened society. At times, there are real issues with the material’s presentation with some individual sketches hard to engage with or penetrate. But this message encouraging a fight against an outmoded and unfit way of life is a strong thread that ties the whole collection together neatly.

The Front Page sets the tone for the whole publication – the first of the pieces to be shown. The piece is a song, the Crocus of Hope (written by Travis Alabanza, Anupama Chandrasekhar, Rabiah Hussain, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Anthony Neilson and Rebecca Prichard and and performed by Isabel Adomakoh Young, Deborah Bahi, Ms Sharon Le Grand, Beth Hinton-Lever, Tony Jayawardena, Caleb Obediah). It’s a defiant and forceful statement that sets the current Prime Minister’s floral use of language and messy metaphor against the cold reality of a fracturing world. Illustrating the irresponsibility of those with power as they continue to tolerate poverty, violence and more while paying lip service to real change, the musical number is intended to be a wake up call. It’s a jumble, however, sounding like a student protest inspired by Rage Against the Machine. This imbalance in tone and content runs through the collection.

The News Stand (An Ode to The Underground and Ms Sharon Le Grand, written by Travis Alabanza and performed by Ms Sharon Le Grand) comprises a monologue which feels unrehearsed and disconnected before a great rendition of the Cheeky Song. The piece itself, regardless of delivery, gives an important message about non-mainstream art and culture (in this case, drag performance) and its lack of visibility and support; One of the (for a theatre audience) most relevant pieces of the edition. Alabanza ’s other piece, Subculture Substage (When the world ends, I hope I’m doing karaoke, performed by Isabel Adomakoh Young) is a different story. Fun, engaging and bloody angry –if this is the subculture’s rallying cry then a revolution must surely follow.

Strong stuff comes in also from the Agony Aunt column (Agony Edgar, from Anthony Neilson and performed by Tom Fisher), Lifts (Karen Laws) and Con-Troll Room (Emily (Glitched) In Paris, written by Zain Dada and performed by Scott Karim and Lucy Mangan). Also the Long Listen and the Long Look (written by Rabiah Hussain and performed by Isabel Adomakoh Young, Deborah Bahi, Lucy Mangan). These pieces show a highly effective use of simple storytelling to carry home complex messages. For a change in texture, there’s other sections that dial up the complexity and poetry such as the wonderful The Weather Room (Where Things Go To Die, written by Anupama Chandrasekhar and performed by Susan Brown).

A varied bunch, some hits and some misses but a vibrant and very relevant collection of ideas and representations of struggles, some of which have lain away from mass attention for far too long. The stronger pieces can’t quite carry the whole show, but there’s more than enough to satisfy any reader, or watcher, keen to keep up with the world’s events.

Runs here until 11 April 2021

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Theatre as news reporting

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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