Afropunk meets Pulp Fiction
“We ain’t nothin’but the Hand of God doin Her bidding.”
The first 15 or so minutes of Is God Is features language almost impossible to decipher. The accents by English actors Tamara Lawrence (Racine) and Adelayo Adedayo (Anaia) are of African Americans in the North East of the USA but the speech has elements of Afropunk and hip hop. I was so relieved to have a text I almost ran out of the theatre, shouting “I got a text!”
This text meant that I could read later as well as listen at the time to the voices in the play. I think the women might have been additionally hampered by the small set box they had to speak inside which limited their living space. Could this be the play within the play?
Various claims are made for Is God Is relating it to tragedy ancient and modern and the Spaghetti Western. The earliest is Greek tragedy, dealing with issues of a finely balanced question of right and wrong, often with divine intervention. TICK. Twins Racine and Anaia get a message from their mother known as God but not heard from for most of their life.
They visit her in a nursing home in the Dirty South and Momma describes how she was so badly burnt by her husband and their father and how her twins too were hurt to a lesser degree by the fire. A problem, no violence ever takes place directly on a Greek tragedy stage as it does in Is God Is. CROSS.
Coming forward we can look at Revenge Tragedy from the late 16th to the early 17th Century, often called Jacobean Tragedy written by Thomas Kydd, John Webster, Thomas Middleton and Willian Shakespeare. Here are the elements of Jacobean Revenge Tragedy: Someone asking to be avenged. TICK. Someone to be the instrument of that revenge. TICK. A Ghost. CROSS. Talk of suicide. TICK. A scene of real or pretend madness. CROSS. A play within a play. CROSS. Scenes in a graveyard. CROSS. The avenger losing their life. TICK. Divine Intervention. DEPENDS.
In fact in terms of comparison, Heathers the Musical has more elements of a revenge tragedy than Aleshea Harris’s Is God Is. As for Spaghetti Western, the plot seems too simplistic. Twins agree to revenge their Momma and set out on a killing spree. At some point, Racine starts calling her mother God. Instructions from God means actions have to be carried out without question, they are obligatory.
Victim One, In Los Angeles: the Father’s Lawyer (Chuck Hall) Ray Emmet Brown, because he will know where their father is and because he helped their father secure a Not Guilty verdict when he was charged with setting his wife on fire. Victims Two, Three and Four: The female twins discover their father has another family of twin boys Scotch (Ernest Kingsley Jnr) and Riley (Rudolphe Mdlongwa) and their mother Angie (Vivienne Acheampong).
Each time Anaia, the twin whose face was badly burnt, questions their ability to carry out their mother’s wishes, Racine the more confident and pro-active of the two reassures her saying “It’s in the blood.”
Chloe Lamford’s sets start with a spectacular fire scene, converts Momma’s nursing home into a chapel and has the male twins living in a pretty yellow roofed house in California.
Neither of the twins bear physical resemblance to the other but the women mirror each other. The humour comes from the excessive nature of the violence, not really a comfortable reason to laugh. It’s either funny or it’s believable.
Greek tragedy or Snuff play? You decide.
Is God Is
Written by Aleshea Harris
Directed by Ola Ince
Adelayo Ray Emmet Brown
Ernest Kingsley Jnr
Director: Ola Ince
Set Designer: Chloe Lamford
Costume Designer: Natalie Pryce
Lighting Designer: Simisola Lucia Majekodunmi
Composer: Renell Shaw
Sound Designer: Max Perryment
Movement: Imogen Knight
Choreographer: Jordan ‘JFUNK’ Franklin
Fight Director: Philip d’Orléans
Running Time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Booking to 23rd October 2021
The Royal Court
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
London SW1W 8AS
Phone: 020 7565 5000
Tube: Sloane Square
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the
on 16th September 2021