Inspired by the Living Newspapers of the Federal Theatre Project of 1930s in the Depression-hit USA, the Court’s initiative not only offers work to a large number of freelance theatre-workers and writers, but also offers a counter-narrative to the stories found both in the mainstream media an in unreliable sources online. Each week there will be a hot-off-the-press new edition responding to the news, with the actors performing script in hand.
“Locked down without the sense of who is wrong and who is right,” is the refrain of the opening haunting choral piece entitled 'Worst is Yet to Come'. In Katherine Soper’s 'Con-Troll Room', the camera wanders over flickering TVs and monitors as two women’s gossip turns to QAnon conspiracies. In Daniel York Loh’s 'The Newsstand', a young man of East Asian heritage riffs on Chinese food and racist attitudes towards it, then tells us about his friend Carl who has become enthralled by Jordan Peterson and Deep State conspiracy theories.
Photos by Isha Shah.
The show is cleverly constructed to bring its disparate pieces together, with different spaces within the theatre standing in for the different items in the newspaper. If the entire project speaks loudly to questions about who has spaces in our media, this promenade-style production (in which the camera guides us around areas of the theatre that the public might not normally see) also questions who gets space in our theatres.
Still, this is a show of endless questions and reflections rather than answers. That’s reflected in some of the offerings including Amir Gudarzi’s 'Who Cuts the Cake', a smart segment set at a party complete with balloons in which the mummies in the British Museum and other cultural artefacts are invoked in a conversation about colonial powers and how they got to carve up the globe between them – and how that affects not just the past but the present, and who lives and dies in the channel and Mediterranean.
Just as you might browse a newspaper, alighting on unexpected nuggets or quirky stories, the Living Newspaper constantly varies its tone. There is satire in Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s Brown Women Do It Too in which Priti Patel’s record as Home Secretary comes under fire during questions from the floor during a TV interview. Chris Thorpe’s 'The Weather Room' brings climate crisis into sharp focus as a woman details a list of everyday activities and encounters that she didn’t realise she was doing for the last time.
What’s appealing about these 80 minutes is that it's not all high drama but full of quiet reflection. I really enjoyed Jasmine Lee-Jones’ heartfelt, unassuming 'Obituaries' and Miriam Battye’s 'Courting', the latter reminding that maybe catering to each other’s small needs and stretching out the hand of kindness are as important as grand passion, because—after all—none of us wants to die alone.
You can stream Living Newspaper on-demand from the Royal Court website until Sun 20 Dec.