Theatre Uncut is a refusal to lie down and be silent. As the project’s co-ordinator, Hannah Price of Reclaim, has explained, it’s about theatre contributing to the discussion and “joining our voice with the voices that are already out there.” This is not just a response to the cuts in the arts, rather a broader response to the spending cuts in general; an attempt to spark debate and stir feelings.
The project consists of eight short plays by Mark Ravenhill, Lucy Kirkwood, David Grieg, Jack Thorne, Dennis Kelly, Laura Lomas, Anders Lustgarten and Clara Brennan. The plays have been made available rights-free to anyone who wants to stage them. On the 19th March, they will performed by an eclectic array of theatre groups – including am-dram groups and student groups – across the UK (as well as in New York, Chicago and Berlin) with the resulting productions linked together by online networking and video conferencing.
Before that the pieces are being staged in London’s Southwark Playhouse to allow all eight to be seen together. Each writers response has been different; some take a more opaque approach while others aim for the throat – or rather the heart in the case of the first play in the showcase, Laura Lomas’ Open Heart Surgery, a raw allegorical monologue delivered by a woman by a hospital bedside, trying to put a brave face on the fact that something she loves has had its heart ripped out. Dennis Kelly’s Things That Make No Sense is a spikier piece of writing, a Kafka-esque skit in which a man is punished for a crime he didn’t commit, his protests ignored by a pair of smiling police officers.
David Grieg’s piece Fragile is a two-hander in which, in a nod to austerity, the audience is required to play one of the parts, reading their lines en masse from projections on the back of the stage. It takes the form of a conversation between a young man with mental health issues and his case worker; light-hearted at first it becomes increasingly taut as Greig makes the audience think about those at the hard-edge who stand to lose the most, as well as the people in between, the people whose jobs are going to become an awful lot messier and more complicated (that is if they still have jobs).
Both Jack Thorne and Lucy Kirkwood, in Whiff Whaff and Housekeeping, take slightly slanted paths towards the subject at hand. Thorne’s play depicts a cheerful middle class couple who describe how they believe that providing support for the disabled or ailing is somehow defeatist: “The thing is with crutches, they’re crutches.” In Kirkwood’s piece, which has more of a poetic intensity than its premise would suggest, a woman sells off her grandmother to help clear her debts. The grandmother, played by Marlene Sidaway, eyes Zawe Ashton’s brisk, business-like accountant with recognition. She’s marched from Jarrow, debated at Putney; she’s been here before.
Anders Lustgarten’s contribution is not a character piece at all rather a polemic delivered by the playwright himself, in which he neatly explains the economics of the Greek bailout before urging the audience to get angry, to lose their rag, to wake up to the changes they can exert collectively if they try; to, as he puts it, “fuck the fat man” of capitalism.
Mark Ravenhill’s piece, A Bigger Banner, written in response to and in honour of the recent student protests, employs a time-slip set-up in which a student at a university sit-in encounters her 1950s counterpart and ends up reassuring her that the future she’s fighting for so passionately will indeed come to pass. Interestingly it is Ravenhill and Lustgarten’s pieces that have proved most popular with younger groups, perhaps because of their clarity of message, their undiluted call to activism.
The evening concludes with Clara Brennan’s moving monologue Hi Vis, featuring Lisa Palfrey as a mother of a severely disabled daughter, describing her child with love and humour. Each play has its own particularly potency, and though some are blunter instruments than others, together they succeed in their intention to stir, to connect, to create an engagement that spills beyond the theatre walls.