Truth and testimony

16 April 2019

Nathan Dunn is impressed by Process Theatre's wisdom and sensibility

My friend once told me that if you are writing about a certain demographic or topic (particularly one of conflict, tension and insecurity) that it is very important to recognise your role in the conversation, and even more important to recognise what you are bringing to it. That’s not to say you need an ‘angle’ or ‘edge’ in a tabloid journalism kind of way, but it begs the question of who can speak on behalf of whom, whether that’s even appropriate and what the purpose of it would be. It certainly makes the “How Authentic Is Authentic?” discussion a tantalising prospect.

My friend is not an academic, nor a member of the intelligentsia, but it still stands as one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received as a writer who is particularly interested in the more problematic elements of our shared socio-political sphere. I’d put my friend in touch with Process Theatre, but that would be an utter waste of time because they’ve navigated their difficult discussion of choice with a masterful maturity.

Things We Do Not Know balances a boldness with a sentimentality that knows its place. It circumvents pretension in its modest approach to sensitive subject matter. Most of this is apparent in the intangible elements – favouring simple yet effective transitional techniques and possessing a collective energy that oozes with a settled and sensible attitude. Their movement sequences swell with purpose and precision, being as visually impressive as they are symbolically significant. There is a ubiquity to their unarrogant understanding, permeating the piece at every possible point. The importance of this can’t be understated either – there is a temptation often when dealing with the gritty and harsh realities of worlds beyond our own to sensationalise or romanticise. Just as damaging is provocatively professing its pain in a lecture-like way, as if to expose torment in a patronising manner that dangerously flirts with self-aggrandisement and saviour complexes. Yet this piece is wise enough to know better, and is consequentially devoid of such haughtiness.

Whilst it does act as an expertly executed meditation on the extremity of the lives of female sex workers in Bristol, its format suffers from fatigue. In and of itself I found few flaws, as the juxtaposition of presentable performers using the harrowing words from a world beyond their own is a strong one, and they share their moments well. However, in order to achieve this, there seems to be a sacrifice of progression. The early stages of the piece are indistinguishable from the later stages, and ultimately the emotional investment dwindles as the piece becomes more predictable and less is asked of us.

With their sensibility and self-awareness, Process Theatre have the set the bar appropriately high for dealing with sensitive issues that lie outside their scope. Their recognition of the things that they themselves do not know was admirably resolved by the involvement of One25 and the testimonies of Bristol’s sex workers, and I’m inspired by their appreciation of the truth and their place with it.

@noffmag / [email protected]

Image credit: Beatrice Debney