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Theatre Uncut and the importance of political plays

18 Jun 2018

For some, theatre seems like an unattainable and unimaginable medium of entertainment. TV is free, and the cinema might set you back £10. But, with theatre tickets going for as much as £200, the economic (and social) barriers to entry still exist. Often, theatre is seen as lavish, expensive with boring Shakespearean prose or gaudy, corny sing-alongs designed to take you away from reality and into a world where anything is possible. But theatre can be inclusive it can be thought-provoking, and most importantly it can be political. And companies like Theatre Uncut are bringing that message to the forefront.

For much of my teenage life, I was lucky enough to be part of a youth theatre company and it truly shaped who I am today. As an excruciatingly shy child, theatre allowed me to be creative, devise plays, and express myself through words and movement. I loved acting and, for a period, it was a career I considered pursuing. But ultimately, the penny dropped for me and the reality of what it’s like to be a black actor in the UK outweighed my love of acting. The roles and money that are available to white actors aren’t the same for black actors. Rigid typecasting leaves most black British actors with very few choices – either migrate to the US for better roles, be continuously typecasted for the same stagnant and reductive roles, or be lucky, diligent, and patient enough to wait for the roles they deserve.

“Theatre can be inclusive, it can be thought-provoking, and most importantly it can be political. And companies like Theatre Uncut are bringing that message to the forefront.”

Although my passion for acting subsided, my love for theatre still burned on. So, while I turned away from work on stage, I re-entered the world of theatre through production in the hopes of engaging with theatre that really means something.

Theatre should and can be political. We are finally witnessing a migration from out-of-touch grandiose theatre to plays that are doing more than serving as a base level form of entertainment. Hamilton, by Lin Manuel Miranda, is political by the very nature of its story. Beyond that, another dimension is added by having an ethnically diverse cast performing as the founding fathers of America through the medium of rap. The National has also brought us Nine Nights and Barbershop Chronicles, both encapsulating different and important black experiences. But it’s the theatre companies that really have their ears to the ground and are truly making magic.

Theatre Uncut is a theatre company aiming to make plays political whilst focusing on different themes each year. Each year they ask selected writers, both leading and emerging, to write short plays based on a political theme. What sets this company apart is that all the original scripts can be downloaded copyright free by anyone anywhere in the world, accessible for two months. This means schools and theatre companies who might not be able to access scripts can perform these thought-provoking pieces free of charge. By using unconventional writers from poets to journalists from all walks of life, Theatre Uncut really gets varied perspectives and shines a light on marginalised voices that are often hushed in the the theatre world.

“My existence is political, so by nature everything I write will be too”

As an editor at gal-dem, a writer, and a previous production assistant at the National Theatre, I was asked to write a play around the theme of “Power”. With the #MeToo and Times Up movements dominating the news, Theatre Uncut chose to only have women write this year. Writers included Sharon Clark, Cordelia Lynn, Vivienne Franzmann, Sabrina Mahfouz, Suhaiymah Manzoor Khan, and Atiha Sen Gupta. For me, this was my opportunity to combine my two passions: writing and theatre. I wrote Safe, a play about safe spaces and online abuse that marginalised groups often face. Having agency over my words and delving into a topic that is very important to me and the work that I do was an uplifting and cathartic experience.

Theatre Uncut has given me the kick up the backside I needed to finally start exploring what I’ve been too scared to do all along. Receiving emails from youth theatre companies, much like the one I used to attend, expressing their love for my play is the most rewarding part about it. I want to write for shy black girls finding their voice through theatre, for those whose voices are silenced, and to amplify our stories. My existence is political, so by nature everything I write will be too. We can’t keep waiting for the West End and big commercial theatre companies to prioritise diversity and make plays political – that’s not where the magic happens. It happens in small side streets in Edinburgh, in community halls and art centres, in schools, and in quiet corners.

Obviously, theatre on the whole can still be very alienating, especially for marginalised groups who can’t see themselves represented in front of and behind the stage. But it doesn’t need to be. With under 25 schemes offering tickets for £5 and plays like Scene and Rhapsody shining a light on voices of marginalised people, theatre can be for everyone and it can touch on subjects that we desperately need to engaging with.

The Power plays can be downloaded for free here until the end of June.