Royal Court Theatre, London – until 23 June 2018
A protester, a pastor, a mayor, a chief judge, an inmate and a congressman amongst many others take to the stage to voice their experiences of the US justice system, its flaws and inequalities in Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From The Field at the Royal Court Theatre.
Over two hours, Deavere Smith embodies 17 different people in this one woman show that not only sets out to give a voice to the voiceless but also provides a platform for change.
Consider Notes From The Field less of a forum and more of a resounding battle cry for justice. Deavere Smith has drawn on interviews with over 250 people, all from very different walks of life and has beautifully curated a narrative that provides insight into the lives of people few would be exposed to.
From the beating and death of Freddie Gray whilst in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department to the beauty and eloquence of US Congressman John Lewis, Deavere Smith carefully plots the inequalities of American society from the point of view of people of colour, specifically young people, with startling effect.
Notes From The Field is a finely tuned composition and a masterclass in performance. Each episode is beautifully framed using the whole stage at the Royal Court, creating each environment the individuals operate in.
The design is economical yet manages to fill the stage providing Deavere Smith the perfect platform to unleash her finely drawn character studies. Her attention to detail is exquisite. Each mannerism, tick, stutter and speech pattern is scientifically pin pointed and underscored by a change of shoes and projected image.
The framing choices are stunning: a direct address to a camera, projected on the back wall from a videographer who was at the scene of the Freddie Gray beating. A rousing sermon from the pulpit. Perhaps the most effective, a wall full of over sized jars, filled with soil from the sites of lynchings.
Deavere Smith is not afraid of detail. She relishes it. From characters to narrative, she comes out fighting with truths so universal, she nails you to the wall.
The addition of musician and composer Marcus Shelby is inspired and adds to the warmth of the performance. With his melancholic strains on the double bass, Shelby is as engaged with Deavere Smith as we are and provides her with another audience member to engage with.
One of her subjects speaks of silently living with ‘bitterness, memory, injury’. Notes From The Field provides each person with a voice and more importantly, an ally in the form of each person who has seen the show.
This is an extraordinary theatrical experience given in kindness, strength and bucket loads of humanity that provides a platform for change. Take it up. We need Notes From The Field now more than ever.
Runs at the Royal Court Theatre, London until Saturday 23rd June 2018