ear for eye by debbie tucker green – review
Royal Court Theatre

Words by: Isaac Tomiczek | Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2018 4:19 PM

The return of debbie tucker green to the Royal Court has been hotly anticipated and her latest effort arrives with a swirl of expectation, magnified by the climate in which it arrives. ear for eye is a stunning piece of provocative theatre that attacks undeniable hard truths of history and racial injustice, here in Britain and in America.

Divided into three parts, each markedly different from each other, the stage is quite literally set as the auditorium fills and the audience is greeted by ominous figures and silhouettes emerging in a cube filled with haze and smoke. This is reminiscent of Antony Gormley’s art piece Blind Light and immediately creates a sense of something ominous waiting in the wings. It is arresting and captivating in a way an empty stage simply isn’t and does get the cogs in the brain ticking.

ear for eye is a stunning piece of provocative theatre that attacks undeniable hard truths of history and racial injustice, here in Britain and in America.

The first part is a series of vignettes delivered by a large cast, assembled on a small stage (credit must go to choreographer Vicki Mandeson) in a style akin to a discussion group with different generations discussing how to fight racism. Although it’s never quite clear why it is staged like this is, especially when the cast remains almost frozen in the shadows on stage throughout each piece, it has a verve that serves the impact, even if that impact varies with each one.

The most notable for me were a two hander between two women debating the merits of their involvement in a march and another with two parents and their deaf son debating how he should behave if approached by law enforcement. Words such as aggressive, cocky, confrontational, suspicious are all leveled at him as he tries to shift his body language to appear less threatening but as is sadly the case, nothing he does will change the fact that he is a young black man and that is indeed the perceived threat. It’s powerful and timely, arriving hot on the heels of other similar, searing and pertinent cinematic hits such as The Hate You Give and Blindspotting.

The cast in part one are all invested and engaging, it’s clearly an ensemble effort but this reviewer found a slight glee in Kayla Meikle’s performance as it almost felt like the grown up version of her character in Dance Nation [read review]. Here she delivers her dialogue with the same delicious relish and electrifies her moment.

I must admit I struggled with part two, maybe it was the length and deliberate frustration it was supposed to create in the viewer, mirroring that of a character in it. We are never really told who the two characters on stage are. Lashana Lynch [read interview] plays a student of some type, whilst Demetri Goritsas is some kind of behavioural therapist. She is confronting him about the reaction and bias towards the perpetrators of a mass shooting, which highlights bias in society as well as his clearly racist and misogynistic assessment. Whilst he is clearly having a hoot playing a white man who simply doesn’t understand or cannot answer with enough real life perspective and delivers a study in privilege, patriarchy and power that actually drew the most uncomfortable laughs from the audience, this part doesn’t have the same zip as part one. However my friend found this piece resonated with her more, in part due to her experiences as a black woman, who has felt, seen and heard views from men like that all too often.

The style and staging here is intriguing, a rotating floor creates pace, tension and a cat and mouse context whilst the content escalates thematically. It is strong but lacked the excellence of choreography and captivating conversational activity of part one.

Using her signature poetic prose and ear for lyrical energy debbie tucker green has delivered something unforgettable

Part three is a video piece, a series of white actors and non-actors, reading American segregation and British slave laws. At the time it felt like it labored the point somewhat but with reflection it leaves the audience to confront how and if indeed where these laws have found a way to mutate, evolve and seep into society over time and maybe challenge us to take a look around and ask how much has really changed? Are the ripples still felt? Because there are still undeniable miscarriages of justice, freedom and liberty, perpetrated daily and past, present and future generations must and will take the blame for that. Racism is a global phenomenon and Britain was unforgivably culpable too.

Using her signature poetic prose and ear for lyrical energy debbie tucker green has delivered something unforgettable, which while it may not have been the slam dunk this reviewer was hoping for is worthy of high praise for its entire package. It is a singular vision strewn with slices of electric entertainment.

NEED TO KNOW: ear for eye is at the Royal Court Theatre until 24 Nov 2018 | £12 tickets released online at 9am every Monday | Standard tickets £14 - £49 book now | see listing | watch trailer | Listen to actors Kayla Meikle & Lashana Lynch on BBC Woman's Hour here [from 34 mins]

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