Royal Court Theatre, London SW1
Opened 10 March, 2008

Hitherto, I had considered playwright debbie tucker green [sic] to be immensely engaged and dedicated both as a writer and as a world citizen, but also off-puttingly earnest in both respects. Plays such as stoning mary and generations made powerful statements about major issues, but struck me as excessively single-minded in their writing; tucker green seemed to start with those issues and treat people as case studies, rather than to begin with the individuals and examine how they were affected by events or conditions. I also found her poeticism quite self-conscious, a device deployed towards an end rather than an organic component of her authorial voice.
The second trait is largely absent from her latest play random, the first entirely. Her account of an ordinary morning in a black London family – sister heading to her office drudgery, brother dawdling late to school, Caribbean-born mother clucking over the pair of them – is lively, demotic and engaging. We are alert that something must be about to happen, but there are no portentous pre-echoes.
It is fifteen minutes into the 45-minute running time before the first note of unease is struck, as sister receives a text message calling her back home, and another ten or so before it is made explicit that her brother has been killed on the street in an altercation: more or less, as the title says, random. We move then into a more familiar key (the sister’s account of the shrine of flowers and other tokens that accumulates at the murder site is especially characteristic), but it remains solidly grounded in the personal. Her portrait of sudden bereavement (as the sister inhales her late brother’s bedroom “stink”) is also telling.
Nadine Marshall performs the monologue of interlocking characters on an utterly bare stage. She and director Sacha Wares eschew any whiff of actorliness or ostentation. They leave it to the writing to do the job; and, for the first time for me, it does. I had also underestimated the extent to which tucker green is now a box-office draw beyond the cognoscenti: even on press night, much of the Royal Court audience was composed of largish parties of young people, perhaps too eager to find levity (one or two laughed at the sister’s remark that her brother’s body was missing an eye), but suggesting that I have indeed been missing something.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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