Royal Court Theatre, London – until 24 November 2018
debbie tucker green’s new play ear for eye is ferocious and uncompromising and challenging and quite often breath-taking. Tackling the current state of racism in both the UK and the US, a triptych of wildly diverse parts bind together green’s innate linguistic power with an acutely pointed experiential style and a determination to really make you listen.
Played at two hours without an interval, green thus presents us with what it is to be black today. The first is a tangle of overlapping voices, mothers advising sons how to deal with contact with the police, victim of harassment, activists looking to galvanise the struggle. Scenes are repeated in different voices, viscerally contrasting those experiences (particularly when the hand gestures scene is replayed with BSL).
Then we switch to a tightly wound duologue (Lashana Lynch and Demetri Goritsas, both excellent) as a black student talks, discusses, argues with a white professor about the violence meted out by white men in school shootings and bombings etc. She’s adamant it is indicative of systemic, structural racism, he’s sure they’re all lone wolves, but the power dynamics here are astonishing as we’re swept right into the maelstrom of mansplaining mendacity as he battles to exert his authority.
Finally, the third section is a filmed segment, white people reciting the horrific detail of some of the Jim Crow laws, seemingly the basis for segregation in the US. And lest we British get too complacent, it is followed by extracts from UK slave codes, tracing the historic links of these pernicious rules, literally codified into society and seemingly impossible to shake off. It is hard to take and that is pretty much green’s point (and why there’s no interval to slope off shamefully).
green directs with laser-like precision, Vicki Manderson’s movement creating beautiful tableaux as the 16-strong ensemble endlessly switches and reconfigures. And Merle Hansel’s monolithic set frames this opening sequence with real visual flair, under Paule Constable’s elegant lighting choices. ear for eye is as challenging as theatre gets, as art gets, but make no mistake as to how vital it is. (And what a year Kayla Meikle is having!)