Part art installation, part opera, part political statement, We Ask these Questions of Everybody is a powerful and thought-provoking creation. Featuring real transcript from an assessment for Personal Independence Payment, the words are then delivered as an opera. Interspersed between this operatic piece are direct quotes from interviews with disabled people talking about their own experiences.
Whilst musically, the operatic sections are, to my ear, too fragmented and without a clear tune or direction, on reflection, they do help in creating a feeling of discomfort. A discomfort that grows throughout the piece. More pleasing to the ear is the music used during the delivery of the direct quotes. Voiced by the interviewee’s, it adds authenticity to the statements. With the music and looping techniques used to manipulate the voices it becomes incredibly effective. To hear uncomfortable quote looped repeatedly, that’s something you simply can’t ignore. There is a recommendation to wear headphones when watching this and this really helps you immerse in the soundscape, especially as the various layers and loops build towards the end.
The visuals are simple but effective. The assessor’s lines appear as simple text font, the government logo prominent. The responses from Hannah (Steph West), the person being assessed, begin as font before changing to animated writing, with frustrated doodles along the edges. This humanises Hannah, despite not being able to see her. It makes the questions even more intrusive. When the piece moves to the interview quotes, the visuals clearly demonstrate the shift. Presented as internet searches, texts and emails, with some of the quotes looped audibly and appear repeatedly on the screen, it becomes overwhelming but highly effective in demonstrating the point.
This piece gains momentum and urgency as it progresses, both in terms of content and delivery. It is an intense watch. By the end I’m left feeling sad and angry. This is not a piece of theatre to escape the world with, nor should it be. We should be feeling uncomfortable about the injustices of society, about the political and personal attitudes towards disability that still exist. Particularly shocking is a quote where a woman describes how someone told her that she must want to kill herself because of her disability.
As I’ve said this is not, and shouldn’t be, an easy watch, it is though an interesting take on what theatre and art can mean in the home. It’s easy to imagine this being an incredibly effective art installation, with the words and voices filling a blank space. But it works well in its current format, having a real impact on me – perhaps it’s better this way, allowing as many people as possible to hear these important words rather than just those able to make it to an arts venue.
Written and directed by: Toria Banks
Composed by: Amble Skuse
Creative Captioning by:Laura Spark
Digital design by: Dylan Howells
Produced by: HERA
We Ask These Questions of Everybody played as part of Sound Festival 2021. It is also available free via HERA’s website until 28 February.