Under Heaven’s Eyes – Online@The Space

Written & Performed by Christopher Taja

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nearly three months on, the murder of George Floyd still sparks debate, fury and aggression on all sides of the conversation. While many have hoped and prayed that his murder marked a turning point, others are realising that the death of another black man at the hands of white police officers is merely another false dawning which will ebb into history.

Under Heaven’s Eyes, a new piece of writing by Christopher Tajah, is a solo production which directly challenges institutional racism forcing black and minority communities into tight corners. Tied directly into issues surrounding COVID-19 – where black people are four times more likely to contract the virus than their white counterparts – Under Heaven’s Eyes is additionally a father’s plea for his children’s safety.

Racial profiling, systemic racism and institutional racism are real, no matter how loudly some people claim otherwise. Beyond the atrocity of George Floyd’s death, Tajah’s work offers a glimpse into a potential powerhouse of a production. Though the work’s current structure is frayed and requires staging, what never wavers is Tajah’s skilful use of language. His powerful writing possesses a balance of logical premise with emotional and inventive creativity.

Just as Tajah’s script begins to feels stilted – needing an infusion of movement, for instance – the narrative strays back to a more personal touch. Under Heaven’s Eyes speaks with a righteous and raw voice, though Tajah’s reliance on statistics to emphasise the poignant notes already made is where the performance really hits home. The inclusion of a family dynamic emboldens the audience’s connection, though could be forged quicker to secure the plot. Tajah’s performance is an eloquent and articulate account of the blatantly rotten foundations of many public and elite institutions. 

Charles WottenEmmett TillRashan Charles and Breonna Taylor. Hopefully, these are names people will remember. If you don’t know them already, then they are ones to research. Through Under Heaven’s Eyes, Resistance Theatre Company Ltd illustrates the stagnant, rife root of racism in the world. Tajah’s ability to admirably convey a myriad of emotions in a 45-minute solo-show is a testament to his artistic talents.

Review published for The Wee Review

The Van – Onine@The Space

Donations to Raised Voices can be made via their website here.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Any resident of Edinburgh has likely taken a stroll past one of the homeless catering vans that are situated around the city. With nary a glance, we have an idea of who uses these vans – for sustenance, for support – but few of us appreciate the value and necessity that Street Work or Care Van provide Edinburgh’s homeless and recovering population.

Providing nourishment for the mind, along with the body, Raised Voices aid their members in developing confidence, employability and well-being through creative means. Supporting Edinburgh’s homeless, the award-wining charity also promotes a healthy state of mind for those with Mental Health issues. The Van is a series of conversations and poetic verses concerning the homeless population’s challenges during COVID-19.

Featuring a diverse cast of Raised Voices regulars and city workers, The Van lifts the lid on the frustrations for those in hostels, temporary accommodations or with nowhere to go when lockdown hit. Unable to see the only friends and loved ones they know – with some also suffering from the withdrawals as pharmacists limit visitors and opening times – the writing is stark, eye-opening and unashamedly honest as is necessary to forge a connection with the audience.

The idea of the homeless staying in vacant hotels makes sense, but the unfamiliarity of suddenly finding oneself unable to move freely, staying confined to space not your own has adverse effects. As support workers lament the loss of regular faces, the usual van visitors catch-up with one another with some jovial banter, light-hearted remarks and frank discussion on drugs, life and the past.

Commemorating Ken Bridges – known for his association with Raised Voices, his wit and experiences shared with the people of Edinburgh – The Van is a fitting tribute to a man who pressed on through life’s difficulties, armed with a stiff lip and some craic. A short reading of the opening of Bridge’s book Crime, Punishment & Mars Bars is a highlight and makes for a terrific bond for those struggling to connect with the film.

Dodgy audio frustratingly leads to the piece’s only significant downfall, where the raw and unfiltered performances are washed away by the city’s brisk winds. It leads to scenes being difficult to decipher, and given the strong performances, makes for disappointment. The Van is a hub, a lifeline in precarious circumstances. While it goes unnoticed by so many, it is a hive of humanity captured touchingly (and vitally) by Raised Voices. 

The Van can be streamed online here

Review originally published for The Wee Review

The Plague Thing – The Space (online)

Written by Marcia Kelson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lamenting her lost time in quarantine, Enid spends her days in the pleasant company of the nurses and other care home residents but principally with herself. Lockdown has caused the isolation of so many across the globe, drawing attention to the ill effects which can potentially last longer than any symptom of the virus itself.

Those shielding have experienced a more distinct period of isolation than those of us able to shop, meet friends and experience a reasonable sense of freedom.  With The Plague ThingPutney Theatre Company serves to remind us that the virus, while still prevalent and dangerous, is having psychologically rippling effects for those separated from friends, families and their autonomy. 

Enid’s monologue is earnestly carried by Carol Hudson’s engaging presence, one only wishes it were a little longer to absorb more of Hudson’s performance. With a deft ability, she draws attention inward and somehow manifests a pang of guilt in not being able to see our own family. Refraining from a solely dramatic angle, Marcia Kelson’s writing laces brief moments of , occasionally macabre humour into the short piece, breaking up the moments of poignant connection or sorrow.

Referring to COVID-19 not as a disease, a virus or pathogen, but as a plague, Kelson reduces the disease to an almost trivial level – not out of ignorance, rather out of a way to familiarise audience’s with a language many understand. Orchestrated to a delightfully soft musical score by Geoff HewittThe Plague Thing comes together as largely accomplished, easy watching. Gradually, Kelson’s writing unravels small snippets into Enid’s worsening condition. No doubt hampered further by lockdown measures, she questions why her daughter hasn’t visited, revealing a growing period of Dementia. Insightful, the piece serves as a reminder to the long-term mental effects this trying time will have, and the necessity for engaging with people when ‘normality’ returns.

With terrific energy, Hudson’s performance as Enid turns The Plague Thing into a remarkably human short piece of theatre. Under the canny ability of Kelson’s writing, the pair manage to create an engaging piece which, while acknowledging the difficulties of the situation, also poses the question which many have come to ask, would you risk it all, just for a bit of company? There are many, like Enid, who would and Kelson illustrates that it’s challenging not to sympathise with them, and rather than oppose – understand their need for interaction. 

The Plague Thing can be streamed online via YouTube here.

Review originally published for The Wee Review; https://theweereview.com/review/the-plague-thing/