All of Us Review – Francesca Martinez’s Urgent Call for Radical Empathy | national theater

At the beginning of Francesca Martinez’s urgent, funny and intensely moving play, two women – one with cerebral palsy (“I prefer “wobbly”), the other able-bodied – arrive for a therapy session. We might assume that the disabled woman is the patient, but in the first of many reversals of expectation, that is not the case. Jess (Martinez) is the compassionate therapist…but she can’t follow her own advice and expose her fury, need and vulnerability.

Personal, political, even controversial, All of Us was programmed before confinement, but the pandemic has only sharpened the cruelties of austerity. The offer of care is reduced, the accompaniment is abandoned. There is reason to be angry, but Jess keeps her emotions in check. The physical and emotional work of Martinez’s performance is striking. “Let out the wobbly rage!” his neighbor urges him, but it does not come easily. She maintains that everything is fine, even half-dressed as the lights go out.

Georgia Lowe’s raspberry lined stage includes a central twist and this piece makes us consider people from all angles. Under the precise but delicate direction of Ian Rickson, they reveal their dimensions: in particular the recalcitrant and lacerating patient of Bryan Dick, and an incandescent Francesca Mills, whose character may well move around in a wheelchair but cheerfully refuses pieties, preferring a joint and a Tinder hookup (“I am a woozy floozy”).

Although the play is built on uncomfortable and prolonged conversations, its characters hate having to discuss a disability or a need. It’s not who they are. But whether in formal or everyday conversation, they are drawn back to whatever stands in their way or are required to explain themselves. Martinez captures every evasion, frustration or humorous diversion, but as the cuts bite even harder and the action widens to include town hall meetings with a shark local MP, escapism is not an option.

With much of her life on the wane, Jess admits she’s drawn to excessive control. Some of the jokes and arguments in the play land too directly on the nose, but it requires us to build a society where we can truly see and value each other. His insistence on radical empathy shines brightly. “I’m not broken,” says Jess. “I am a unique spark of life. We are all.”

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