Random is a play by leading British-Jamaican playwright debbie tucker green (who spells her name in lowercase). First performed in London in 2008, it was written against the backdrop of what was regarded as an epidemic of teenage knife crimes in London. This production, directed by Leticia Cáceres (director of multi-award-winner The Drover’s Wife), first toured seven years ago and has made its way back to the stage, this time at Belvoir’s Downstairs Theatre.
Random stars Zahra Newman, who’s just completed a Helpmann Award-nominated run in the Australian premiere of The Book of Mormon. It’s a one-woman show that requires Newman to take on the roles of four members of a British-Caribbean family – a mother, a father and their young adult son and daughter. Set in London, it unfolds across a day that begins no differently for each member of the family than most others. Moving between each character, Newman describes in detail the conventional activities in which they’re engaged and the thoughts occupying their minds. There are even time checks included in the text, used to convey the ordinary progression of the day.
A single event then changes everything. A member of the family becomes a victim of a random act of violence and dies as a result. The event is described in the vaguest of detail and only spoken about, rather than seen, because the focus here is the aftermath of the attack and its impact on the deceased’s family members. We see each of their immediate responses to a senseless attack – the denial, and the pain and the grief. This isn’t a 90-second news piece forgotten about soon after reported; this is a random act that happened to take the life of a member of this family and it will change all of their lives forever.
green’s text offers a strong and stirring commentary on the lasting impact of indiscriminate acts of violence. It’s disturbing to watch over the course of 45 minutes how the lives of each individual disintegrates without warning and without reason. The piece is wonderfully directed and staged by Cáceres, who ensures our attention is never distracted from Newman. Rachel Burke’s meticulously plotted lighting design is the perfect aid in shifting character and location, and The Sweats’ subtle sound design enhances without ever overpowering or distracting.
But it is Newman who reveals herself to be a remarkable chameleon and, in doing so, makes the greatest contribution to Random’s success as a powerful piece of theatre. She shifts effortlessly between characters, which requires her movement from a south London to a Caribbean accent, and presents us with four distinct individuals who are never difficult to distinguish from one another. Newman is totally convincing, totally engaging and ultimately involves us in immense pathos. This is a production worth seeing for Newman’s performance alone.
Random examines lives transformed from unremarkable ordinariness to cataclysm in the passing of minutes. It’s difficult to imagine a world in which green’s play diminishes in relevance.
RANDOM – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 11 November, 2018
Venue: Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir (25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills)
Tickets: belvoir.com.au or by phone on 02 9699 3444