Decolonisation: not just a buzzword – Bhuchar Boulevard and The School of Oriental and African and Studies University of London

Created by Sudha Bhuchar

Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A cautionary titbit of information: Decolonisation – not just a buzzword contains some sensitive wording and discussions – so deal with it and realise that the examination of the brutality of colonialism isn’t to be watered down. Presented by Bhuchar Boulevard and The School of Oriental and African and Studies University of London, Sudha Bhuchar’s creation pries open the doors on the discussions of decolonisation, turning the gaze back onto those who have profited and continually fail to grasp its importance.

Not strictly political, Bhuchar’s intention flows more into personal everyday opinions and expressions, encompassing all sides of the discussion, and arguably is more valuable than any political spiel. Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith, the hour-long show finds seven speakers reciting the words of staff, faculty, and members of SOAS, expressing their unfiltered words live as they first heard them.

Decolonisation falters where the likes of Gary McNair’s Locker Room Talk excelled. McNair’s original production in 2017 took the live recordings of men and children as they discussed women – a similar concept to Bhuchar’s idea. What Decolonisation lacks is the hook for the audience, the recognition and black mirror. The discussions of language, hegemony and foreign domination parcelled as ‘victory’ aren’t as clean a subject for the audience to connect with. It is a side of history they haven’t seen or refuse to acknowledge. The recitation of their words lacks a punch, a performance aspect which can both respect the words of those interviewed but sell them in a way to entice listeners.

What they capture though is the wealth in diverse opinions – whether we agree with them or not. As students, teachers and funders across the world rightly cry for the decolonising of physical space, misplaced adorations, and curriculums – there will always be those who cannot understand why the symbolic severing of a statue amounts to more than vandalism. Kristine Landon-Smith’s direction correctly offers no filter for the voices recorded, enabling a broad stroke of ideas to be communicated.

Infusing the testimonials of the campus residents and alumni offers a personal, and occasionally less than flattering look into the inner conversations of SOAS. A transformative piece of art, Decolonisation seeks to punctuate the reparations and reflections we take in our national and continental history, particularly those who gain privilege on the broken backs of men and women across the colonies.

Winding down, Landon-Smith makes the decision not to reach a natural conclusion. Since the Black Lives Matter movement’s origins, to the ongoing struggle of lives which still matter, voices have become clouded and mingle with the naysayers and lobbyists’ ignorance which perverts the intended message. The finale of the show reflects what we sit with now – a vital movement, which is screaming out against a torrent of ignorance, but where the voices of reason drown in the sea of numerous misunderstandings.

The speakers begin to talk over one another, the articulation failing and the victors emerging, not out of diction or clarity, but from volume and impact. A deceitfully callous, if ingeniously harrowing, way to end the production serves as a stark reminder to the loss of momentum caused from out –of-control conversations. With work, particularly on the theatrical, Decolonisation could transfer the words and emotions of those who took part in a package that offers ease of access. For now, its place as a record of the reformation into our glorified history requires a different dressing to draw out the conversation.

Review published for The Reviews Hub

Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day – Rehearsed Reading

Written by Matthew Knights

Directed by Emma Lynne Harley

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Fife’s best-kept secret, and no it isn’t The Secret Bunker – from Lochgelly to Lords (House of), Jennie Lee was a working-class girl from Fife, best known for working her way through the Labour party into becoming the first Minister for the Arts, and eventual co-founder of the Open University. Her name isn’t synonymous with as many as we would like, but her dedication and hard work set a precedent which enabled those who sought a career in the industry a starting place, now if only this sentiment was echoed by the current holders of her position…

Knights Theatre’s upcoming tribute to Lee focuses on her life in broader strokes than solely her political achievements, examining her early intentions and reflecting on how Lee herself would feel looking back on it all. Set in a fictitious museum, cared for by curator George Docherty, the achievements and mementoes of Lee are in good care if a tad dusty. As the cabinets open, so too do the chapters of Lee’s life as her political self and younger self emerge to converse with Docherty and lock horns over their eventual path.

Miraculously, not only are Matthew Knight and Emma Lynne Harley emulating the characteristics of Jennie Lee through the story and direction of the cast, but the team has somehow brought the woman herself into their production through Trish Mullin, who plays Jennie Lee as she is in her political role and duties. The unfaltering core in Mullin’s performance sells any line, regardless of tone or humour, offering a steady glimpse of the potential the production has. There is a control which defies any rehearsal concerns, and Mullin allows for quivers and breaks in the performance conceding an authentic range of emotions.

Equally, George Docherty’s take on the curator morphs into character performances of ladies and gentlemen across Jennie Lee’s life, reinforcing her relationships with the likes of Harold Wilson as well as playing into the production’s humour. There is tenderness too in the primary role as the curator, a custodian of time not seeking glory but the opportunity to share an unsung story that we all in the industry should know.

And perhaps this is why the rehearsed reading deconstructs the notion of the stage so valiantly. If one were to close their eyes or look away from the screen – there would be little to suggest this isn’t taking place on the stage. There’s such evident adoration for their craft, for the task at hand, that within Knight’s writing and Harley’s narration of stage cues that the reading feels akin to a run-through, a behind the scenes peek.

There are notable dips, where Younger Jennie’s delivery is stilted, which is more an issue in scripting than performance, where detail is padded out to create a point of tension between the different mindsets of the younger and older Lee. Here’s the only real rub, where Mullin’s protestations of not becoming a champagne socialist come across as genuine, Hana MacKenzie’s difficulties in communicating the younger Lee’s disappointment comes over as more hollow with the body of exposition required to get Knight’s characterisation across.

And whilst there are bumps where stage directions feel overly complex or exist to pad, one has to remember that in a physical performance these would be the first to change. For a reading, there’s oodles of research filtering into the show, weaving tiny snippets of Lee’s life and accomplishments. Better yet, the foundations are sturdy, with keen direction it’s evident where moments of movement would occur to infuse energy into the production. So despite not having a stage to stride onto, there are little concerns Jennie Lee wouldn’t find her footing.

A collaborative effort from tremendous creators, Knights Theatre’s Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day is supported by The Open University, Creative Scotland and On Fife – stamping an approval from Jennie Lee’s home county. As a rehearsed reading, the opportunity to gain an insight into the up-coming production settles any concerns one would raise, as Knight’s resolute script toys with history in a way that serves as a fitting tribute, as well as a stark reminder of the arts steadfast position – not solely for culture, but as a focus, honing issues to a point. Something Jennie Lee herself recognised, and in championing the value of the industry, there are few more fitting ways than Tomorrow is a New Day.

Further information and ways to support the team can be found on Knights Theatre’s website & social medias.

Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day – Preview

As the country comes to grips with the perplexing difficulties it finds itself in – there is no understatement in highlight the lack of funding the arts, and there is undoubtedly one woman who would have had plenty to say regarding the struggles the industry finds itself suffering.

The first-ever Minister for the Arts, Jennie Lee – the daughter of a miner, a working-class woman from fife would go on to be a founder for the Open University. Written by Matthew Knights, and directed by Emma Lynne Harley, Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day is performed by a team of creatives who never met the woman but live in an industry shaped by her ambitions to challenge expectations and injustices.

 In an age where the viability of the arts is unscrupulously called into question, and while contemporary politics continues its attempted meddling within the sector which best exposes their short-fallings, production companies like Knight’s Theatre’s seek to maintain this nation’s extensive history political theatre. Challenging societal expectations, injustices and creating contemporary pieces which pay nods to our cultural history.

The rehearsed reading will be available to watch live on Thursday, October 22nd at 7 pm. Tickets are available from Event Brite here.

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