“The crocus of hope is, er, poking through the frost.” When he uttered that dodgy metaphor back in February, Boris Johnson probably didn’t predict that it would become the opening number of the third edition of Living Newspaper, the Royal Court’s anarchic, hyper-current series of new writing. Then again, there’s little BoJo does that the Living Newspaper writers can’t tear to pieces accompanied by a jazzy saxophone riff.
There’s a new group of writers this time, providing short scenes stitched together into one big “newspaper”, all set in different spaces within the Royal Court building. In one, Siobhán MacSweeney (pictured below), of Derry Girls fame, plays a madcap astrologist writing horoscopes on the hoof: “a Capricorn is a walking anxiety disorder”. In another, she is a woman slowly being driven mad by emails from online shops: “you were out on a stupid little walk when delivery was attempted”. The pacing of both pieces leaves a little to be desired, but MacSweeney herself is a delight, her comic timing spot-on. If I were her, I’d be asking for a Sister Michael spin-off. Living Newspaper doesn’t pretend to be anything other than agitprop, but it’s not so heavy-handed with its messages that it gets boring (at least, not most of the time). The project works best when coming at you side-on. As with the last edition, Royal Court-ing, aka the segment about online dating, is the highlight. “Sorry, you froze after ‘dick pics’,” says a man (Scott Karim), who insists he is “an ally” and then tells the woman (Lucy Mangan) on the other end of the Zoom date that she has beautiful eyes. “That was it, really,” says the woman, whose eyes are indeed beautiful, but are also screaming help me. Writer Chloë Moss has lifted the structure almost intact from the Guardian’s Blind Dates column, but that’s no bad thing: the exchange leads to a comedically wide gap between the verdicts that each participant is forced to give at the end.
Another left-field gem is The Long Look/The Long Listen, a slot filled this time by Rabiah Hussain. From interpretive dance accompanied by various Covid warnings, Hussain’s piece shifts abruptly into three women (Isabel Adomakoh Young, Deborah Bahi, and Lucy Mangan, pictured below) discussing their experiences of sexual harassment in a blasé manner achingly familiar to anyone who’s ever been perceived as female. “I was twelve.” “Eleven.” “Walking home.” “Me too!” All this because a claim that one of them was first catcalled as a teenager was correctly identified as a lie.
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