Actions speak louder than words
11 April 2017
Say it Loud is a call to action, and invitation to be active agents, says Florence Bell
Say it Loud is a succinct blending of ideas. The ways we use our own words and the ways we appropriate other people’s. An ensemble of five plus an onstage writer intertwine in a Sense8-like way, their stories and their words (not all their own, we are told) expressing what it means to respond to the refugee crisis from within the UK, what we can do.
The writing is really the best part of this. It’s at times lyrical, at times rhythmic, sometimes funny and always powerful. Twenty writers have contributed material to the piece, and there’s also a writer in the room who writes a short segment, based on current news stories about refugees, that gets performed at the end. The writing is the star of the show.
Paper is an important image. Piles and piles of paper are spread out on the floor, representing the 10 million Syrian refugees. The actors move the piles of paper around the floor to represent the different countries Syrian refugees have fled or been displaced to. The number of refugees in the UK is just a tiny scrap of paper, torn off a larger sheet. This is intensely clever: paper is mutable, is fragile, gets words written on it (a canny comparison to the words of the newspapers used to write the final segment).
At one point a piece of paper is folded up into a boat, and a sea of salt is poured on the floor around it into the shape of the Star of David: a reference to the UK government’s response to refugees almost 80 years ago as well as a shocking symbol of one tiny paper boat in a wide inhospitable sea (“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”). These are attractive as visual images, but even more effective as ideas: like the idea that being a refugee is like being forced to stand and not allowed to sit down.
Most of Say it Loud’s aesthetic lies in the ideas presented to the audience. In a show where the importance of what we read and how we act is at the forefront, paper is the loudest voice – both in terms of the dominating and powerful presence of the script and the paper literally spread out on the floor.
This isn’t about showcasing perspectives. Which is why the opinions of those who aren’t interested in taking action about the refugee crisis aren’t visible at all. The voices of many are shared between several voices. But not everyone’s voice is included. I honestly don’t think it’s a problem that we don’t hear the opinions of people who are anti-immigration or anti-the UK accepting refugees or who voted Leave because, frankly, they’re all extremists.
The problem is that Say it Loud seems to be part of a wider issue of not representing the opinions of people who don’t make theatre. Luvvies are, thank god, massively pro-immigration and pro-accepting refugees and pro-Remain, but a show about the UK’s response to the refugee crisis doesn’t register all responses in first-person perspectives. People who tell immigrants to go home aren’t given voices, but are instead relegated to the voices of others.
It’s interesting that the play chooses not to take this perspective. I appreciate the strong stance Feat. Theatre has taken in not giving a platform to extremist views.
What’s really central to why Say it Loud works so well is the fact that it isn’t just a play about taking action, the play itself takes action. At the end, each performer tells the audience what they will do in the future to try to help Syrian refugees. And an invitation is extended to the audience to do something, to write a letter to a refugee or to donate. What’s interesting is that at one point the play acknowledges that theatre doesn’t necessarily achieve much, but that “small things do matter”.
Not always, but a lot of the time, we watch and we do nothing. Here, we don’t just sit and watch, we take part. Say it Loud continually references the idea of watching: “I don’t wanna watch anymore. I wish I could change the channel.” “We used to watch the news but now we just watch Netflix.” But the show goes beyond watching, offering the audience the chance to do something, to become active agents. That matters.
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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca