Updated: Aug 23
There are many touching and special things to come out of this tragic time. This is one of them. Babel was written and cast before the pandemic hit, which resulted in the cast having to travel back to various parts of the world during the rehearsal and filming process. Despite this, these acting students from ArtsEd tackle this powerful and necessary piece with momentum, showing how resilient our industry is in these testing times.
Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen’s script unravels many opinions on race, politics and equality in Britain. The set-up is exciting and engaging, with an opening prologue montage introducing the characters and themes of the piece. The montage of videos lays out a consistent aesthetic, not only engaging with the performativity of the online space, but also with the character’s situational circumstances. These include a Youtube channel, Facetime calls, vlogs and home videos. The prologue includes famous quotes regarding race and diversity, such as: ‘Our lives are all different and yet are all the same’ by Anne Frank, as well as quotes from the UKIP manifesto, Martin Luther King and Confucius. Though the quotes range from decade to decade, it seems they can still all be applied to our contemporary situation. What does it mean to be British? Are you proud to be British? What is our responsibility? These are a few questions we are indirectly and directly presented with, within moments of the piece beginning.
We are introduced to clear and consistent characters, all of which take on different perspectives from three incidents that happen on the same night. As an audience member, we are able to interact with the monologues and duologues, choosing the order of the videos that we watch them in. With inspiration from Grenfell tower, Brexit, terrorist attacks and social media, Lai-Tuen was not afraid to be confrontational about our current affairs in Britain. A special mention to Paddy Goodall, Sam Butters, Grace Bassett and Grace Daly who came across effortlessly, through their footage and characterisation. Goodall’s character in Kai’s Proposal is refreshing amongst the heavier content. His pace and timing are addictive to watch. Butter’s erratic portrayal of a criminal is not only convincing, but elegantly evil. His obsession with twitching, speaking closely to the camera and intense eye contact perfectly fits his character’s intentions and past behaviour. Bassett is a mother, confronted by her own daughter for being supportive of a pro-racist and neoliberal MP. She seamlessly develops in her scene, Robyn Facetimes Mum, from ruthlessly admitting she is attending a controversial meeting instead of seeing her daughter, to showing her more vulnerable side reminiscing about how she once fell in love with a Thai exchange student, who is the father of her daughter. She represents an on-going theme of colliding morals when it comes to the cross-over between politics and love (also present in the character of Kate, played by Freya Crompton). Her emotions in this scene translate just as well through a screen as they would on a stage, which is to be commended. Daly presents a performance to be proud of in her videos, as she is captivating to watch. Her delivery of the script has clearly been dissected thoroughly, and yet her performance is so seamless. Furthermore, all the cast of Babel should be proud of the outcome of this performance.
This is an important piece of theatre, not only for its conversation on current affairs but also to showcase the talent and commitment of this year’s acting graduates. Babel would have always been a significant piece of theatre, but this couldn’t have come at a more powerful time, with the inequality in Britain currently being highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. Let this remind us how theatre can be more than just entertainment, and can be used to fuel political movement and inspire change.