A young woman waits anxiously as her fiancée’s heart is removed in a perverse operation to save his life. A nameless person sits dumbfounded, openly framed for a brutal crime. And an occupied university building is visited by the voices of lovers from a bygone era.
Part farce, part anger and often served with a large dose of dark humour, Theatre Uncut brings protest to the stage. The seven short plays that make up Theatre Uncut were written by Lucy Kirkwood, Dennis Kelly, Laura Lomas, Anders Lustgarten, Mark Ravenhill, Jack Thorne and Clara Brennan. All seven scripts are a response to the coalition’s spending cuts. The flagship production was staged at Southwark Theatre on 19 March and on the same night the plays were also performed in community centres, youth theatres and sitting rooms across the county. More than 45 performances took place, from Brixton market to Edinburgh University.
The scripts are as diverse as the breadth of the cuts. They take the audience on an angry journey that questions the necessity of the public service cuts and forcibly demonstrates the scale of the attack. They give voice to those who fear losing the benefits they rely on and paint allegorical pictures of the absurdity of an austerity drive that offers no growth plan.
Those behind the event hope it will bear witness to and provide a record of how the cuts are affecting people in the UK. Hannah Price, artistic director of Reclaim Productions, the company behind Theatre Uncut, wants the performances to be the start of a national theatrical uprising, setting in motion a continued dialogue. And with so many readings and performances already taking place, the project has surely provided a space for creative discussions.
Price was surprised at how easy it was to get people involved in the project: ‘I had no idea how many cross people there were out there. From ex-pats in the US to people in Berlin, people just approached us. It was easier than you would have thought.’
Count me in
When Price first shared her idea, it was an automatic ‘count me in’ from renowned playwright Mark Ravenhill: ‘It is refreshing to see how political this generation has become. I wanted to work on something that could involve people from across the country. These plays are a starting point for bringing a group of people together for a discussion, and drama is a good way of imagining other worlds and other ways of thinking.’
Ravenhill’s script took the student protests in 2010 as a point of departure to explore the dreams of a past generation. Apparitions from the 1950s, Marge and Fred, celebrate the birth of the NHS and debate the next steps required for more equality: gradual change or revolution? Softly, softly or the blood and terror of an uprising?
Ravenhill leaves these questions for a new generation of students to ponder. ‘The play doesn’t wrap that up,’ he says. ‘Gradualism may be very well intentioned but, when under attack, is it strong enough to protect what we’ve gained?’
Last century we gained a welfare state and a health system that are the envy of many around the world. It is the prospect of this being slowly dismantled that Price wants people to discuss. ‘I want to inspire people to look at it in more detail,’ she says.
It is the details that many of the plays are preoccupied with. Several focus on a subject that doesn’t often get discussed on the stage: economic literacy. In particular, they describe the pressing need to understand the numbers so we can fight back informed.
‘The numbers are so complicated that we need an entirely new language,’ claims Bill’s accountant in Lucy Kirkwood’s short piece. By making Bill feel that his economic situation is far too difficult for him to understand the accountant persuades Bill to sell his gran for ‘a good price’. Physically too weak to defend the sovereignty of her body, gran at least has the mental capacity left to assess the accountant as she’s dragged from her home: ‘You’re a cunt.’ No wool over her eyes, then.
Lustgarten’s piece is more of a speech than a traditional piece of theatre, but again the same themes emerge. For Lustgarten the world of economics is purposefully being made ‘opaque and complex’.
The impact of the austerity drive on people’s lives is another key theme threading the seven scripts together. Linda the Glow Clown’s monologue by Clara Brennan is an evocative tale of a mother who, in the absence of the disability mobility allowance, can no longer take her disabled daughter on excursions from the care home. Aware of her daughter’s anger at this loss of freedom, Linda feels able only to visit her in disguise. As a clown she attempts to give her daughter in laughter and pleasure what she cannot with a trip to the forest or the sea.
The death of the enabling state is metaphorically depicted in Jack Thorne’s play. Nigel and Julie create a world where their pets and children perish in the purposeful absence of love and basic care. Survival of the fittest marks the sadistic actions of parents who believe that mobility – physical, political, economic – is nothing if it’s not achieved alone. ‘Real mobility is being mobile without support,’ proclaims Julie.
Arts under the cuts
Theatre Uncut paints a vivid picture of the many impacts of austerity, but the scripts are also a comment on cuts to the arts. Written, directed and performed for free, these plays provide their own protest against the cuts and serve as a powerful reminder of the talent of UK script writers – talent which, alongside musicians, actors and artists now, faces an uncertain future. The Arts Council is losing 29.6 per cent from its budget on top of 100 per cent cuts to humanities teaching in universities. There can be no disputing that these cuts will harm our cultural industries.
Lack of funding for the arts is nothing new. The executive director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Vikki Heywood, has already made the comparison with the last Tory administration, when many arts organisations were left in tremendous debt. This doesn’t make the effects any less serious though. Arts are central to how we learn to relate to each other, to experience one another’s lives and to share our own. The arts offer us a commentary on how to make sense of the world and even how to change it.
Already there are many people in the UK excluded from participation in the arts; with less funding this number is set to increase. We could be left with an unbridgeable divide as arts become the preserve only of those who can afford to keep them as a hobby. Richard Eyre, former artistic director of the National Theatre, claims the result of the Arts Council cuts could be ‘a cultural apartheid’, which it may not be possible to reverse.
As Lisa, the anxious fiancée, watches her partner struggle to survive, she decries the ease of destruction: ‘It’s not the tearing up that’s hard … It’s the putting back together.’ When hearts are removed, they do not re-grow.
Theatre Uncut is produced by Reclaim Productions, in association with Meeting Point Productions. www.theatreuncut.co.uk
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope