Knowledge is Power. Knowledge is Change

NICOLCA WATKINSON reviews Theatre Uncut at Soho Theatre

‘Theatre Uncut’ is an idea as well as a performance,’ a voice announces on an overhead speaker as you enter the theatre. The idea is simple: to get people talking about the world around them. The concept was created in 2010, when the coalition government announced their proposed cuts in public spending, and a selection of playwrights were each asked to each write a short play in response. Over the last three years, ‘Theatre Uncut’ plays have been performed by over 3000 people in 17 countries across four continents, demonstrating the power of theatre: crossing boundaries and bringing people together. In their dramatised responses to current political events, this year’s playwrights were given the theme, ‘Knowledge is power. Knowledge is change.’

All of the plays are directed by Hannah Price, co-Artistic Director of ‘Theatre Uncut’, and performed by Faith Alabi, Ruairi Conaghan, Ruth Gibson and Conor Macneill. By using the same cast on the same stage with only very marginal differences in set, the attention was concentrated throughout on the quality of the writing and the actors’ versatility. Gibson admirably shifts from one part to another throughout the hour long performance: a greedy executive, then a working-class mother, before becoming an “urban shaman” from Liverpool, and finally your typical TV watcher.

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Due to the short length of each piece, there is not a lot of movement on-stage except for the set changes between plays, but this reinforces the skill of the writers and actors. By far the most striking piece, which moved a significant portion of the audience to tears, was ‘The Most Horrific’. Exploring the way social issues are portrayed in the media, and the way in which we consume them, the play encourages us to think more critically both about the information we receive and how we react to it.

With the exception of the lightly surrealist ‘PACHAMAMA’, the other plays are narrower in scope, focusing on specific characters and the effect of current social issues on their lives. From bedroom tax to zero-hour contracts to education reform, the plays cover a wide range of contentious topics. ‘The Finger of God’ depicts the contrast between National Lottery executives, who need more people to buy tickets, and a working-class couple who suffer as a direct result of the new initiatives. Similarly, the theme of financial struggle is represented in ‘Reset Everything’, which tells the story of a father and son who want to blow up their spare room to avoid paying bedroom tax. ‘Ira Provitt and the Man’ is the story of a public battle turned personal, as a politician tries to pass an education reform bill when visited by his conscience. These characters, coming together from all walks of life, offer a cross-section of society and show us how many different stories there are that we don’t hear, because we don’t listen. That, after all, is the goal of ‘Theatre Uncut’: to make people talk, and to make people listen.

‘Theatre Uncut’ is playing at the Soho Theatre until November 30th as part of its UK tour. The plays are available to perform rights-free by anyone, anywhere as part of the national event of mass theatrical action. If you would like to perform, produce, or write about them yourself, visit www.theatreuncut.co.uk/getinvolved.

All images may be credited to Jeremy Abrahams