'Stand' review or 'Shall we just sit pretty?

Stand, Chris Goode
Battersea Arts Centre, 22nd April 2015



Six actors sit on stools, side by side, nestled within a small performing space. There is the faintest shimmer of Question Time to the set-up – but these aren’t politicians, they’re people. These are people who have chosen to fight for the things they believe in and ‘Stand’ is their story, in their own words. This isn’t a big show. It isn’t loud and it isn’t angry. Instead, in classic Chris Goode style, this is an open, honest and compassionate piece of theatre, which uses the plight of the individual to remind us of the deep importance of community.

The six characters – or people – were all interviewed in Oxford, where ‘Stand’ first played. It takes a little to work out their causes and their personalities, as the spotlight gently darts across the stage, prompting each character to speak. At first, these people seem a little bit silly. There is a woman who has devoted her life to protesting about fracking, and she seems worryingly naive. There is a university chap who signed on as a BP protestor because he fancied the lass in charge. He seems shallow. The two older gentlemen, one fighting against the destruction of a local boatyard and another taking on animal testing in Oxford, seem inflated and idealistic in turn. The lady who has adopted a girl from an orphanage seems a little meek and the woman who works with asylum seeks is so very, very angry. Are these the characters who are meant to inspire us to take action?

Chris Goode has written and directed ‘Stand’ and he builds things gently, softly and without judgement. We are not asked to admire these characters and we are not asked to adopt their causes. We are just encouraged to listen.  

Gradually, in a script that has been quite beautifully sewn together, the protestors on stage become people. We learn about their backgrounds, their relationships, the things that make them laugh and cry. The lady who works with asylum seekers (Cathy Tyson, with velvety steel) talks frankly about an unbelievably tough childhood, a time so strained that ‘just to survive was a rebellion’. The fracking lady (Kelda Holmes) begins to positively spill over with gentle optimism and one begins to love her for it. The BP protestor (Spencer Brown) might be a little immature but then he stands up and delivers one of his Shakespearean skits – performed in order to protest against BNP’s sponsorship of the Bard – and the whole room tingles. The boatyard photographer (Michael Fenton Stevens) all but burns up with disappointment and our hearts go out to him and the animal rights protestor (Lawrence Werber), a twinkly eyed and infectiously passionate gent, wins around the lot of us.

There are two touches that lend this show a particular warmth and energy. The first is the tiny interruptions, which remind us of the original interviews and the real people behind these performances. At one point, the adoptive mother (played with such soft wonder by Gwyneth Strong) gets up and leaves; ‘I’ve got to go check on my puddings’. There are a few disruptions like this, which stop us from falling too hard for the performances. The other choice is to make this a verbatim script, which mimics the verbal tics of the interviewees. All the stumbles and ‘likes’, mumbles and mistakes, are in here. This is such an important touch. It means the actors cannot afford to put too much of themselves in the performance – they absolutely have to respect the individual quirks of the characters they now play. Those verbal tics also bring us back to the reality behind these performances. They make us listen harder and listen honestly and that, without a doubt, is where all activism begins. 

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