Last Updated on 11th August 2022
Paul T Davies reviews Francesca Martinez’s play All Of Us now playing at the National Theatre in the Dorfman.
All Of Us
National Theatre (Dorfman)
4 August 2022
Standing ovations are still rare for new plays these days, especially ones without any “Hollywood/Netflix” performers in the lead roles. But the audience leaping to its feet and cheering for Francesca Martinez’s powerful, extraordinary All Of Us was fully justified. The play examines the devastating effect and humiliation of Pip, (Personal Independent Payments) assessments, in which people with lifelong disabilities, are regularly assessed and payments adjusted if they are deemed “fit to work.” That’s lifelong disabilities which are only going to get worse. Martinez has cerebral palsy, “Still wobbly?” “Yes, still wobbly”. Wobbly being her character, Jess’s, preferred description. It is a searing indictment against a government that has done untold damage to disabled people, cutting benefits and support, driving people to suicide. Yet the play also works because of the compassion it extends to all of us.
Our pre-conceived prejudices are challenged immediately as Jess is led onto the set and waits for someone. But Jess is not the client, she is a Dr., a therapist, and has a successful client base. As austerity is used to remove her mobility allowance, so she can no longer drive to work, she loses everything, and she frustrates her friends by always trying to see the other point of view, by not getting “angry enough.” Her generosity as a writer creates excellent characters, who are played by a cast of ferocious passion, particularly Francesca Mills as Poppy, a vibrant, sexual young person in a wheelchair and in pain who lives life to the full, until her night care is removed and she is put to bed by 9 pm. It is an outstanding performance of life, anger, despair, one of the best you’ll see this year. The developing relationship between Jess and recovering alcoholic Aiden, (emotionally engaging Bryan Dick), is beautifully played. The beginning of Act Two throws us into a public meeting with local MP Hargraves, (Michael Gould oozing Tory slippiness perfectly), with the cast placed in the audience. Listen to the statistics. Listen to what they say. You can no longer claim ignorance. It transpires that Aiden is Hargreaves’s son, and Jess’s compassion even begins to bring about an attempted understanding and reconciliation, and although the metaphor of a torn painting can feel a little strained, it works with the theme of the play, people who are hurt cause hurt to others.
With Ian Rickson’s skilled, beautiful direction and an excellent design by Georgia Lowe, this production feels groundbreaking for disabled rights and actors. Although the subject matter is heavy, Martinez is also a comic, and the humour is brilliant, “Don’t get me started on the Paralympics!” It’s a play, along with the recent Prima Facie, that has the potential to bring about real change, if it can get in front of the “right” people. Unfortunately, they are arguing about tax cuts that will bring even more devastation to disabled people. It’s not just lived experience that we witness, it’s lived testimony, and Martinez’s rallying cry is that we all have potential to move from abled to disabled. All of Us.
Until 24th September.