'All of Us' review — Francesca Martinez's debut play is a profound snapshot of disability in modern Britain
What is “normal”? For some, normal could translate as being an able-bodied person who requires no assistance. For others, normal could mean living a day-to-day routine. For Jess, a self-labelled “wobbly” therapist living with cerebral palsy, there’s no such thing as normal, and that should be celebrated.
Actor, comic, and CP sufferer Francesca Martinez’s debut play shines a spotlight on what it’s like to live as a disabled person in modern Britain. Developed over the course of two years, and with Covid commentary running throughout, All of Us is an educated, urgent and profound snapshot of disability in modern Britain.
Martinez plays Jess, a therapist whose promised lifelong benefits are cut when a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment states that she’s mobile — because she can walk up to 20 metres aided or unaided. Consequently, Jess loses her car, access to round-the-clock care, and her own freedom. With the help of her new and fellow disabled friend Poppy, she tries to speak out in public meetings, but the cracks in a broken Britain begin to show.
All of Us highlights moments that an able-bodied person may never see. Ian Rickson directs particularly itchy scenes, notably between Jess and her PIP assessor, and between Jess and her clients. But with All of Us written by a stand-up comic (Martinez was the first disabled comic to star on Live at the Apollo) there’s self-deprecating pathos throughout; lines about Iain Duncan Smith were met with show-stopping laughs.
While Martinez plays the downtrodden therapist, Francesca Mills provides the much-needed light relief as Poppy. Mills brings an electric energy to the crass 21-year-old, and Crystal Condie is equally invigorating as Jess's friend Lottie, who finds herself caught in Jess and Poppy's cases.
Georgia Lowe’s clever set design keeps All of Us moving; a central revolve adds a level of dynamic storytelling to episodic two-hander conversations. A Question Time-style staging for the Act 2 opening scene was a particularly smart choice too, allowing actors and audience to merge as one. Michael Gould commands attention as the patronising Conservative MP, Oliver Hargreaves. But as the play divulges, it loses its emotional touch and begins to deteriorate into a soapbox for reactionary remarks.
By packing in up to six stories at one time, the same points are rushed and repeated so often that All of Us veers into hollow territory. That’s not to say these stories shouldn’t be repeated; we need to amplify these difficult topics in society in order to make change. However, the lack of development or exploration on many lines inserted with no prior mention to that topic ironically makes the play feel like an exercise in checking boxes.
“Hurt people hurt people,” shouts Jess, as she comes to the conclusion of our world today. Back in 2020, the thought of seeing a Covid state-of-the-nation play would send shivers down my spine. But two years on, as the cost of living crisis impacts all of us, this socio-political commentary is a much-needed moment in our theatres. Prescribe this play as a must-watch for our current government.
Photo credit: Francesca Martinez and Francesca Mills in All of Us (Photo by Helen Murray)
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