Directors: Debbie Hannan and Tonderai Munyevu
Writers: Maheni Arthur, Tonderai Munyevu and Isaac Tomiczek
Over a series of three monologues, the audio drama Blaccine: First Dose looks at the Covid-19 pandemic through the framework of race, gender and politics.
The piece is created as part of the Stockroom Writers’ Room, and the work of Tonderai Munyevu, Maheni Arthur and Isaac Tomiczek has a collaborative feel throughout: the individual monologues come together to create a nuanced picture of pandemic life.
There has been no shortage of creative responses to the pandemic, but the global event, refracted through the lens of oppression, historical and present, casts the trauma in a whole new light. Blaccine offers ideas on why the Black-British population has been less eager to take up the vaccine. Maheni Arthur’s monologue, The Process, charts a Black woman’s experience of medical discrimination: everything from lack of eye contact to misdiagnosis. Arthur uses her character’s cervical screening as a case in point. The statistics are sobering: Black women are 41% more likely to develop cervical cancer, and 71% more likely to die from it. She is asked to put aside her experiences and to invest in a “system that was never meant to benefit me”. The sudden sense of inclusion is jarring, to say the least.
It is this feeling of disconnection – from community, from country – that underpins the Blaccine monologues. In Future Brixton Royalty, Isaac Tomiczek’s narrator guides us through the borough. Structured through the Seven Stages of Grief, Tomiczek explores the gentrification of areas like Brixton, and its impact on communities. The narrator (a bouncy, personable Kiren Kebaili-Dwyer) regales us with stories of when Harry and Meghan came to visit, or as he refers to Meghan, “her Royal flyness”. The impact of having had a bi-racial woman in Buckingham Palace is not to be underestimated. The narrator bemoans the invasion of vloggers and foodies as the “worse kind of super-spreader”. With the influx of Instagrammable cafes, comes the edging out of community spaces; living on the periphery, being priced out of the area you grew up in. The reluctance to listen to authorities, and instead engaging with Whatsapp groups and home-made remedies, is sympathetically drawn by Tomiczek. As the narrator wryly comments, explicit or implied, control is already in place.
In Trigger Warning, Tonderai Munyevu comes at the pandemic from a different perspective. Describing himself as a “proud migrant”, Munyevu’s monologue moves between biography and fiction, as he describes the impact of his mother’s recent death. The narrator considers the vaccine, although his mother is against it. Munyevu’s monologue ends on a crucial point: while the media is quick to discuss vaccine hesitancy in sound-bites, the reasons behind this are rarely discussed. Munyevu coolly remarks “it is the WHY that matters”.
This is where Blaccine: First Dose fills in the gaps, rewires the misinformation. The pandemic not only exposed inequalities, but widened them. The writers interviewed local people about their experiences of racism: the clips are evidence that the monologues don’t stray far from the truth. Three years on, Blaccine asks us to reflect on what, if anything, has changed.
Available here on 12.19 and 26 January 2023