An angry dissection of racial injustice, past and present is provided by Debbie Tucker Green in her new two and a quarter hour drama, ear for eye (Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs), which she also directs.
The play presents snapshots of lives plagued by racism. The first section offers a series of encounters between both African American and British Black people, exposing generational and political divides over the response to oppression. We see a scene in which an African-American mother advises her adult son on how to stay out of trouble. The smallest action could be used against him – the way he holds his hands, the way he glances at someone, the way he speaks. It's a motif that recurs: there are UK stories of wrongful arrest, the innocent victims told "that mouth will get you into trouble." A young deaf actor signing his frustration, highlights the dangers of the misinterpreted gesture.
The second part present a taut confrontation, following the massacre of black American schoolchildren by white teenage boys. A white male academic dismisses it as the action of a "lone wolf" from a broken home, despite clear evidence that the boys were white supremacists. Challenged by a black female student, he turns from being smoothly condescending to vicious, while her articulate fury mounts. It is a chilling portrait of systematic abuse of power.
The third section comprises two short films: white Americans read out laws relating to racial segregation, dating from the Jim Crow era, and then white Britons read out the slave codes that applied in Jamaica under British imperial rule.
This is a dense and at times, deliberately alienating vision of race, language and power structures which dispenses with a traditional story line to concentrate on ideas. I feel, though, that the static nature of the work and the minimalist staging – a translucent white cube filled with white smoke from which the cast emerge to tell their story makes it seem in part like a lecture.
However, Debbie Tucker Green's innate linguistic power is never in doubt and with an acutely pointed experimental style and urgency, she make you sit up and take notice. Furthermore, it is performed with great conviction by a cast of 16 that includes new Doctor Who companion Tosin Cole as a furious activist. Among the many passionate performances, those of Kayla Meikle and Eric Kofi Abefa stand out.
ear for eye
Plays until Saturday 24 November 2018 at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London
Box office: 020 7565 5000
Photography: Stephen Cummiskey
Last modified: November 9, 2018