I first came cross random on a hot summer’s afternoon in London in 2009. It was my first time at the National Theatre Bookshop, and I was surrounded by all the best new plays that Europe had to offer. Something drew me to debbie’s play random. I recall a quick flick through its pages. I was struck by the play’s form – a monologue poem for four distinct voices, Sister, Brother, Mum, Dad – to be performed by one black actress. I made myself comfortable on the floor and read it. I recall being completely caught up in the quotidian lives of this very relatable family. I also remember the lump in my throat as a random act of violence shattered the humdrum of their ordinary lives, altered forever between breakfast and lunch. My impulse to stage it kicked in immediately. I walked to the counter, paid for the play, and wrote an email to Zahra back home. I said ‘I’m sending you a play. We’re doing it.’
A year later, we were touring random to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Though our little independent production punched way above its weight, nobody really saw it. The show was relegated to ‘theatre for young audiences’ – often where the best, most innovative theatre is happening – but where only those lucky kids with devoted drama teachers get to experience it. Eamon Flack was one of the few general public members who came along to support this work. Sitting among rowdy Year Nine students at the Sydney Opera House, Eamon got to know and feel for this British-Caribbean family, and he and I have been discussing bringing this show back for general audiences ever since.
debbie tucker green (who spells her name in lower case) is Britain’s leading black female playwright. random was her response to what was considered an epidemic of teenage knife crimes in London between 2007 and 2008.
All too often in Australia we hear of the king-hit that ends a young man’s life, or the brutal knife attack between teens, or the one too many (young) women raped and murdered on our streets. Often the coverage of these tragic events is brief and, when it does stir the public’s interest, it’s usually because some politician has loaded it with prejudices by pointing the finger at a cultural group and their often-tenuous association to ‘gang violence’.
The power of debbie’s random lies in her capacity to cut through the noise and ‘issues’ with compassion and empathy, utilising the full power of theatre combined with soaring poetic writing to encapsulate the very essence of senseless loss for a family and a community. We bear witness to something too familiar, anew.
It is a great privilege to return to this work, which, 10 years on, still speaks with fierce immediacy, passion and clarity of vision.
Random is playing at the Downstairs Theatre, 18 October to 11 November.
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