debbie tucker green's poetry resonates in this story of random events
“Death used to be for the old.”
The strength of debbie tucker green’s writing is in her expression. This brilliant, young Black British writer has the knack of coming up with word pictures, a dramatic poetry that stays in your head long after the curtain has come down. Except that in this case there is no curtain.
The orthography, the use of lower case for her name and play titles is her choice, like e.e. cummings (except that now we read that he preferred the capitalization), despite the attempts of Microsoft to alter it and put in capital letters. You see we haven’t got past her name and already she has stimulated interest and discussion! Her new play random gets an unconventional treatment in the main house at the Royal Court. Unconventional because it isn’t just minimal, it’s whatever the superlative of minimal is. There are five characters and one actor, Nadine Marshall. There is no set, just the bare black brick of the theatre, no props, no furniture. No distractions. No credits for design or lighting or sound. Just the individual audience member and the words of debbie tucker green.
This is not to detract from the skill of Nadine Marshall who has to convey changes of character with voice and body alone. I had been pre-warned that it might be difficult to follow, so at least I knew that I was watching for four different characters and I had no problems at all in knowing who was speaking. This is because the playwright gives us a long stretch by way of introduction to each character.
The main character is the sister, a young woman no longer in education, out at work, a lively, witty, observant girl with a real talent for description. But you will also meet her brother and the concerned mother who wants her children to eat more sensibly and dress warmly. Read her words to her son and instantly imagine something of the character of both and the way in which youth culture takes the conventional and injects another sense of style. “Ask mi/how yu can mek a uniform. . . /not like a uniform. . . /a tie look — /not like it spose to tie — /a trouser fit — how you wannit to — /not how it meant to — so low?“
I can tell that English teachers will want to put debbie tucker green on the syllabus. Think about the phrase, “Dark boots an’ heavy shoes/ inna my house” said in the Caribbean accent of an older woman and feel the intrusion she feels, the sinister presence of the unwanted into her world. The feeted harbingers of doom. Or, on the very first page describing the reluctant battle to wake up, the competition with the clock that looks straight back at the sleepy girl, “it stares me right back/. . . Till it blinked first – loser” as the digital time changes. The imagery of “the single duvet is holding onto me like my man” and in one phrase she has flipped the conventional snuggling into bedclothes like one would curl up to one’s lover to the anthropomorphism of a duvet that thinks like a lover.
The inspiration for random is young black boys, killed, stabbed or shot in our cities, for reasons unknown. The use of the title random has a double meaning here. It is the way in which the police describe the killing of the boy but it is also a teen slang speak word of praise for the most excellent, here used with deep irony as this meaningless death is the worst that could happen. Sister goes with her father to identify the body of his son, her brother. She talks about the public ownership of his death, the flowers and ephemera of the street shrine and even her irritation at the way in which her co-workers show support for her, “and who ask Sally fe bawl/She never know my brother/She don’t even know me.”
Talk about the symbiosis of writer and actor— Nadine Marshall is able to act her socks off in the parts. Her voice deepens and her posture alters for the brother and whereas the girl has a London accent, her mother is distinctly from the West Indies, again her voice is deeper than her daughter’s.
Sacha Wares, who directed Mike Bartlett’s My Child at the Court, has directed two of debbie tucker green’s other plays, generations at the Young Vic about AIDS in South Africa and trade at the Soho about sex tourism. I think of all debbie tucker green’s plays, I like random the best and at the Royal Court, the intelligent, starkness of the production complements the personal tragedy of the theme. This is one not to miss!
Written by debbie tucker green
Directed by Sacha Wares
Director: Sacha Wares
Running Time: 1 hour without an interval
Closed at the Royal Court on 12th April 2008
The Royal Court
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
London SW1W 8AS
Tube: Sloane Square
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Royal Court on 13th March 2008