There are startling, sparkling episodes in All of Us, revelatory moments when you hear and see experiences new to the stage of the National, which is working hard to expand the repertoire of the lives it projects. You would expect this from Francesca Martinez, the writer and standup who describes her cerebral palsy as being “wobbly”. You would expect it from director Ian Rickson, who brings his minute focus to the action: under Anna Watson’s quiet lighting the stage spins around between scenes; the movement is slow but it is pushed by rage. What a pity that the rough edges of surprise and sharp ironies are muffled by explanation.
Martinez, calmly humorous, plays a therapist, good at saving patients from themselves, bad at getting angry on her own behalf. Her “wobbliness” means she can’t do buttons or shake Shreddies into a bowl. But though she often shuffles on her knees, she can walk a little and so is assessed as too fit to merit the car on which she relies. As her angrier, spliff-smoking friend, Francesca Mills tries to goad her into action as she firecrackers around in a wheelchair: “Spit it out. I know you don’t swallow.” This 21-year-old commands two of the most highly charged scenes: a sinuous seduction, and a different sort of going to bed, when her mates ease her into a nappy for the 10 hours when a carer can’t visit.
Tom Lishman’s sound design turns a tiny stage into a lifetime of big dreams. The crash of the sea, the glug of champagne
Embodying, as here, is what the theatre is good at: the effects of austerity policies and people’s casual condescension are realised precisely in particular, complicated confrontations. These leave little need for what also runs through the evening: therapy-speak and explicit debate. A play that sets out rightly to challenge the idea of normality, justly to take on government negligence, weakens its accomplishments by turning drama into dilemma.
At the King’s Head, along with Naked Hope, a monologue about Quentin Crisp, writer and producer Mark Farrelly is delivering Jarman, a torrential hour and 20 minutes of Derek Jarman: not really an impersonation – though Farrelly has a look of the film-maker when sporting boiler suit, beanie and jutting jaw – but a rush of moments and memories. The boy Jarman being jeered at – and thwacked – at home and school. The young artist designing for John Gielgud and living it up at Bankside; preening in a white sheet to become Miss Crêpe Suzette for Alternative Miss World; simpering under a wimple made of scrunched-up brown paper as “Sister Ejaculata”; stunned by his HIV diagnosis; glorying in – the simplest sentences are the best – the marine colours, the silver, ochre and lime green, at the defiantly named Prospect Cottage.
The declarations pelt down provocatively: is decadence really “the first sign of intelligence”? Sarah-Louise Young’s production is fizzing and overripe. Farrelly’s performance is dextrously expanded by Tom Lishman’s sound design, which on a meltingly hot evening turned a tiny stage into a lifetime of big dreams. The crash of the sea, the glug of champagne, the sighing of strings. And, most telling of all – striking and challenging – the crunch of footsteps on glass.
Star ratings (out of five)
All of Us ★★★