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Real life stories of courage and conscience from Oxford. Part of the 2014 Radical Thinking season.
West Oxford Community Centre, Thu 29 May - Sun 8 June 2014

April 12, 2015

Old Fire Station, 10th April 2015

You may have heard of this one. First preformed at the West Oxford Community Association last June to celebrate our city “as the home of Radical Thinking”; it sold out. It was put together like this: Oxford people who had made a stand for something they believed in were interviewed by writer/director Chris Goode. He recorded their stories, Studs Terkel style, and then wove their words together into this marvellous show.

There are six characters who explain a bit about themselves and their family backgrounds and then get into how and why they got into making their own stand. One protested about Cuadrilla’s desire to frack for fuel by super-gluing herself and her friends to the foyer of the company’s PR firm; Albert from Witney is a member of SPEAK, the anti-vivisectionists who stand in protest in the South Parks Road every Thursday; another led a passionate campaign against the excesses of the Jericho boat yard planners, and so on. They were all lit up by their successes, such as the student who was part of a guerrilla theatre group, dramatically drawing attention to negative aspects of BP’s sponsorship of the RSC, and the woman so proud of her adopted daughter, who turns out to be one who stands up for the unfortunate in our society.

This then is about people who have the courage to confront difficult issues, and in hearing about them we are encouraged to “be part of the conversation”. STAND is entertaining, yes, but it also makes you think.

Michael Fenton Stevens, Kelda Holmes, Spencer Brown, Gwyneth Strong, Cathy Tyson and Lawrence Werber are very talented and experienced actors, and all deliver the words as though they were just their own. Chris Goode and his production team succeed, within a deceptively simple setting, in challenging us to address afresh somewhat clichéd global issues about sustainable futures, equitable living all, environmental harm, community building, and how to improve our lives in the face of corporate greed and corruption.

It is amusing, interesting, thought-provoking and conscience-prodding; it is an excellent piece of real theatre, richly deserving to be brought to a wider audience.

June 10, 2014
STAND is a unique piece of theatre about and for the Oxford community. As the latest in the Playhouse Plays Out scheme it was sensibly staged in the West Oxford Community Association on Botley Road. Although not the most distinctive of Plays Out venues, the feeling that you’re all gathering for a school assembly or a kind of council meeting actually brings to mind all those various communities that do assemble in the plainest of sports halls across the country, and their inherent importance and value. It sets the scene well for the kind of personal and political stories shared within the show.

The design was akin to a slightly sterile modern TV interview set, drawing attention to the fact the show was developed from an interview process. The cast also had their scripts and notes in front of them – though they were felt very much ‘off book’ and had practised lines over and over so they would come out naturally, including all the usual speech habits that were spoken in the original interviews – ‘like’, ‘um’, ‘kind of’, ‘sort of’, and ‘you know?’ all remain in the most true-to-life of scripts. Although the way the actors would occasionally read from their scripts and at other times not do so was a little distracting, the scripts and stands served a point: to remind you that the actors were just the messengers, not characters. There were no characters in STAND, just people. 

The starkness and corporate look of the show contrasted perfectly with the warmth and compassion the stories – we hear of six different people’s childhoods, outlooks, experiences and eventually their actions and the effects of those actions. The six interviews were interlaced together in the script so you’d jump from one person to another, and although each story was told independently of the others they remained inextricably woven; they were all strands of the same fabric.

Due to the intimate nature of the speech and the clear consideration and careful dealing with the verbatim script, the atmosphere of the show was quite placid. However, there was a great deal of natural humour simply from each individual’s idiosyncrasies and these very human and relatable elements were where the piece excelled and what made the political personal, and vice-versa. Additionally the immediacy of the show felt very important; your ears can’t help but prick on hearing actors name drop Jericho, Port Meadow or the Broken Spoke Coop. Places you know, places you’ve been to; places you also care about. The world of STAND is the exact same world we live in, making the piece extremely relevant. It’s a stand-alone piece about people, our capabilities as individuals and within groups, whether in Oxford or elsewhere.

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