BAFTA and Olivier Award winning writer/director, debbie tucker green, is known for her staccato, poetic language and aversion to capital letters. She is also unapologetically Black, once saying: “I’m a black woman. I write black characters. That is part of my landscape.” Her latest play at the Royal Court, ear for eye is a beautifully bold play exploring race and power, past and present.
We were struck by the understated beauty of undiluted truth throughout the production. Laced with confidence, the play is two hours straight, no interval, and divided into three parts.
In Part One, we see snapshots of everyday life, families, friendships and intergenerational conversations, all attempting to navigate a place in a society that often sees Blackness in itself as aggression. No action can lead to death/police brutality, an action can lead to death/police brutality. In ear for eye we hear a mother talking to her son on how to stay alive: “Don’t rub your eyes…” and a plethora of instructions of where to have your hands, how to move, when to not. A father talking to his son on where to place your eyes, not to look away, not to look at anything, not to look directly in the eye but, “…we did not raise you to look at the floor”. It’s an uncomfortable and contradictory rule book for interacting with those in power who abuse it, as impossible to live by as it can be in real life.
A father talking to his son on where to place your eyes, not to look away, not to look at anything, not to look directly in the eye but, “…we did not raise you to look at the floor”. It’s an uncomfortable and contradictory rule book for interacting with those in power who abuse it, as impossible to live by as it can be in real life.
Particularly of note here is the dynamism between Tosin Cole (Doctor Who, Hollyoaks) and Nicholas Pinnock (Guerilla, Mandela: The Prison Years, Top Boy) with opposing approaches to activism and then Eric Kofi Abrefa’s (The Amen Corner, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) quietly devastating monologue.
Part Two sees Lashana Lynch ‘(a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)’, return to work with green alongside Demetri Goritsas in a conversation where the hypocrisy of white privilege is laid bare. Highlighting there is no term/catchphrase for white on white violence, there are no white terrorists and should criminality, even murder, be evidenced, the system and institutional racism will look to mitigating psychological factors for white criminals. Lynch and Goritsas are outstanding, the perfect duo for this tense, frustrating yet ultimately compelling dialogue.
In Part Three, the cold reality of how racism and hate were written into law through Jim Crow in America, and the slave codes in UK and Europe, the laws are read by Caucasians of all ages. We see how every institution was involved in feeding this systemic disease, even the church. How through these laws Black people were not allowed to commune, facilitate or help each other in any way; how the beatings, dismemberment and death were encouraged and facilitated.
This mesmerizing and challenging play does come with a trigger warning and an age restriction (14+). It will provoke and perhaps induce pain. Poignantly, someone who inspires green, writer and activist Ntozake Shange (for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf), passed away the day we went to see the production; you could not help but think of her in some moments.
The play was met with silence at the end, followed by a well-deserved standing ovation, an appropriate response to a wonderful play. Go and see it, (we recommend you get a copy of the play text as well), because ear for an eye is like a bullet to the heart, but we get to walk out of the theatre still breathing.
Mon – Sat: 7.30pm
Thu & Sat mats: 2.30pm
Captioned: Thu 22 Nov, 2.30pm & 7.30pm
BSL Interpreted: Sat 24 Nov, 7.30pm | Interpreted by Jacqui Beckford
Running time: approx. 2hrs 10 mins (no interval)
Phone: 020 7565 5000
In person: The Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, Chelsea, London SW1W 8AS
Image credits: Stephen Cummiskey