I try to be rigorous when evaluating the kind of issue-based theatre one might call "worthy", not because the issues themselves are dull or anti-theatrical but because it can be too easy to substitute social and political button-pushing for dramatic potency. The verbatim drama Unprotected, about the dangers faced by street prostitutes in Liverpool, drew near-unanimous accolades on its home-city première earlier this year, and I may be excessively harsh in my evaluation of its on its Edinburgh transfer, still in Nina Raine's production. There is a matter-of-factness to much of the delivery, right down to pauses and "fluffs" transcribed from the original interviews, which testifies to a refusal to make a melodrama out of the stories of the murder of two prostitutes and the failure of a scheme to create a "managed zone" for street women. Tricia Kelly is particularly fine in a clutch of roles. However, other devices such as pretending that the audience is the interviewer, and so posing questions straight out to us, smack of greater calculation. The piece ends with the kind of explicit memorial which has no dramatic point other than to dragoon us into the prescribed feelings (not unlike the ending of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, also playing on the Fringe this year). It is a valuable part of the social discourse of Merseyside, but it will not enter either social or theatrical history.
The same, only more so, is true of In The Continuum, a two-hander written and performed by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter about black women with HIV/AIDS. Salter portrays a young infected woman in Los Angeles and those around her – friends, family, advisors etc – whilst Gurira does likewise for a Zimbabwean victim. Their skills and commitment cannot be faulted, but apart from its worthiness the only other discernible note in the piece is that of showcase, as each performer plays several diverse roles. The play tells us nothing we did not already know, and does not remind us of it in a sufficiently provocative way.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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