Writers: Bukky Bakray, Stacey Gregg, Tanika Gupta, Ellie Kendrick, Sabrina Mahfouz, Nathaniel Martello-White, Eoin McAndrew, Caitlin McEwan, Rachel Nwokoro, Annie Siddons, Stef Smith, Caro Black Tam, Ed Thomas and Michael Wynne
Poetry and protest, always easy bedfellows, form much of the virtual pages in the latest edition of the Royal Court’s Living Newspaper. Black Lives Matter, Reclaim The Streets and the current battle against the Tory Government that wants to curb the right to protest, are all touched on by the creatives who have come together to make work that responds in an urgent matter to the news of today.
The most successful of these responses is Crisis After Crisis We Persist, a song that stands in the middle of elegy and festival, and is performed with heart and anger by Raj Bajaj, Jason Barnett, Genesis Lynea, and Gloria Obianyo. It forms the Front Page of the newspaper and sets the tone for the rest of the show. It’s a beautiful and passionate opening, and its meaning in echoed in Short-term memory by Caro Black Tam in which a voice decides the protests and campaigns that will be allowed to go ahead. Rejected posters tumble around the feet of Genesis Lynea.
Other spoken word pieces discuss more personal protests like Train written by Bukky Bakray about a young woman trying to reconcile the contradictions of Nigeria. It’s a place to which she is attached but it’s also sometimes a violent country, and the poem attempts to reconcile these opposites. It’s filmed expertly too, with a book about Western Africa before colonisation on the windowsill as Gloria Obianyo looks out to Sloane Square. Filmed mostly outside is Ed Thomas’ affecting but abstract A Western Chronicle: Fragments from The Front Line where a young man protests on the street wielding a painting of a cabbage white butterfly.
Ellis Howard shines brightly as the cheeky Liverpudlian schoolboy who has crept into the Royal Court unnoticed. He explains to the camera why he is not at school, and Howard’s delivery is so honest that it seems incredible that it is not his story; in fact I’m Not Here is written by Michael Wynne. Also providing a humbling honesty to someone else’s words is Shiloh Coke who performs Ellie Kendrick’s friction about going to a lesbian bar for the first time with utter conviction. The piece opens up to examine how queer generations can pass down knowledge.
Less personal, and taking the form of mini plays are Internet Boy (1999-Present) and Confit. The first is a monologue in which Patrick McNamee describes his ‘accidental’ dalliance with the Alt-Right. It’s a good tale and brilliantly edited, but writer Eoin McAndrew’s conclusion is a little predictable. And the bottles of Fanta are mysteriously unexplained. In comparison, Stef Smith’s Confit improves as it continues. Beginning as a sycophantic puff for Nicola Sturgeon, the play becomes a much more thoughtful and ominous examination of Scottish identity in a time where Scottish politics could be said to be in crisis.
Not everything works; Uncle Agz by Nathaniel Martello-White has moments of comedy but it seems more like a traditional stand up routine and doesn’t fit with the lyricism of the other segments of the newspaper. Likewise, Annie Siddons and Rachel Nwokoro’s Wisdom Cards, which has a fortune-teller picking up tarot cards, but the advice she gives her client seems moored in meaningless self-help platitudes .
But together, and as a reaction to the strange times we live in, this edition of Living Newspaper is full of hope. It may look back on the past year, but there’s a chink of light here too. Papers are usually full of bad news. Edition 4 is news to cheer.
Not all segments were available to press.
Runs until here until 18 April 2021