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Tonight Is Your Answer, Theatre Royal Stratford East

Sarah Rutherford
Directed by Dawn Reid

Pros: A play about women, with an A-list cast, female director and author, that asks important questions about race. 

Cons: Perhaps the play could have gone further in certain areas, but more of that later. 

Our Verdict: A good ice breaker to kick off the latest Angelic Tales Festival.

Courtesy of Theatre Royal Stratford East

Earlier this week, the Theatre Royal’s season for new writing got off to an excellent start with a rehearsed reading of Tonight Is Your Answer by Sarah Rutherford. The play was inspired by her experience as a mother to two mixed-race children. While Tonight doesn’t quite go into Clybourne Park territory, it certainly opens Pandora’s Box: the unspoken thoughts about race in modern Britain.

The action revolves around four very different middle-class women in 2008 who all, bar one, have partners from different racial backgrounds and as a consequence, have children of ‘dual heritage’. They all agree to stay up and watch the US presidential election.

Natasha the host (played by Tara Fitzgerald) lives a very ordered existence. She has some draconian beliefs on child reading and lays down a lot of rules for both herself and her adopted children from Ethiopia. Izzy played (by Katie Hayes) is the antithesis of Natasha; her incomprehension at what constitutes taboo behaviour can only be described as childlike. Mo (played by Charlotte Randle) is relatively normal compared to Natasha and Izzy and is very much her own person. However she can be riled up, given enough provocation. Last but not least, there’s Angela (played by Rakie Ayola), the only black person in the group. Though she doesn’t have the same hang-ups about race as the others, she has concerns about motherhood that are universal. As the evening progresses, there are revelations about their respective lives and the thorny issue of race rears its ugly head.

Rutherford does a good job of creating distinct characters that at first seem to have very little in common. Humour is important in the play, as it allows certain uncomfortable truths to be spoken in a palatable fashion. When Izzy has a meltdown regarding her low self-esteem and a lack of savoir faire in political correctness, she represents in the frustration of many people who are tired of having to be PC. Conversely, when Angela is cajoled into speaking out about the events of the evening, her response is blistering, unadulterated honesty, borne out of a lifetime of holding her tongue. These scenes of intense frustration in the play work really well and in some ways, it would have been nice to see more examples of friction throughout, though perhaps in varying degrees of subtlety.

One thing, however, that I noticed was the absence of mixed-race characters present on stage. As a mixed-race person myself, I know that when growing up, even my parents were not privy to my thoughts about my identity and self-image. I wondered if the opinions of the children in the play would ever be voiced, confirming or rejecting the views of their parents. During the Q&A session after the reading, members of the audience raised this subject, as well as the fact that the play did not represent any mothers from a working class background. I suspect factors such as the dynamics of the characters and the length of the show influenced the play’s present form, as opposed to a conscious decision to rule out these topics.

In any case, Tonight Is Your Answer is very enjoyable and as it’s a work in progress, it may yet include these subjects in a future version or sequel. There’s certainly a lot of mileage in the characters Rutherford has created and the multicultural issue she raises. She could even do a series of plays similar to the Up documentaries on television, where we see how things have changed for the families of the respective women every seven or so years.

Incidentally, the Q&A session with the cast, director and writer of the play was relaxed and informative, and I would say this was just as important and rewarding as the main event. These Q&A sessions take place every night for the other shows in the Angelic Tales season, so do stay behind after the shows.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Tonight is Your Answer is part of the Angelic Tales New Writing Festival, which finishes on 15th June. 
Box office: 020 8534 0310 or book online at https://stratfordeast.ticketsolve.com/shows/

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