In front of us are six people – individuals who have stood up for something they believe in, each in their own small or sustained or noisy way. As a piece of verbatim theatre, Stand uses interviews with real people to form the script, performed by actors with every “um” and “y’know” retained. The set is extremely simple – each actor has a chair, music stand with a script, their own grey backdrop. We cut between the interviews, their lives slowly coming into focus.
A co-production between Chris Goode’s company and the Oxford Playhouse, these are all of Oxford residents. But their tales of activism and political engagement are varied, with smaller or larger ‘P’s. There’s the photographer who documented the destruction of a thriving boatyard community to make way for luxury apartments. An 82-year-old who pickets a vivisection lab every week. A woman who gets a buzz out of taking direct action on climate change, gluing herself to the doorway of a PR firm. A mother who adopted a child from Russia and taught her the confidence to speak out. A woman who works with asylum seekers who arrive in Britain bearing the scars of torture. Even an earnest young man who, in protest at BP’s sponsorship deals with theatres, leapt onto stages to protest in mock-Shakespeare… “out damned logo!” was the rallying cry.
Some of these people were eloquent, some babbled; some came prepared with rousing speeches, others were bashful. We hear about their childhoods, formative experiences that led to their counter-cultural commitment. Stand opens and closes with echoing statements, which form a kind of chorus that says – it’s never just one person. Protest is always bigger than that.
Most of them are modestly realistic about the chance of affecting change. But they are all also notably stoical; the key to successful activism, one claims, is just to keep going and going; some things cannot be compromised on. And even if many of the interviewees confess to being pessimistic about our planet and our society’s future, they’re still all hopeful enough to bother to make a stand. It’s an inspiring contradiction.
For this is no po-faced, wholegrain-muesli, woolly-worthy show. Yes, some have starry-eyed hippie idealism, but they’re usually self-aware enough to mock it before anyone else does – and it’s a damn sight better than having none at all. You can, suggests the young man, be serious about a cause without taking yourself too seriously – and that could apply to writer-director Chris Goode’s whole show, which wears its heart rather lightly on its sleeve. Stand is gently, sweetly comic, and a very warm experience, even as it pricks your conscience with the question: what do you stand up for?
On tour till 7 Jun; chrisgoodeandcompany.co.uk