Like many shows around at the moment, All of Us was programmed pre-pandemic, but has only now just opened at the Dorfman Theatre (the most intimate space at the National Theatre). Arguably this works in its favour; the play focuses on disability and austerity Britain, and Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on society’s inequalities and the lack of consideration given by the government to those who are most vulnerable.
At the heart of the story is Jess, played by the show’s writer Francesca Martinez; she’s a therapist, who has cerebral palsy, although she prefers to use the term ‘wobbly’. In the opening scenes we see Jess undergoing her PIP assessment, to see if she is still eligible for her Personal Independence Payments. As a result of this interview, and being deemed less in-need than she was previously, she loses access to her Motability car, meaning she can no longer commute to work.
Also central to the story is feisty northern lass Poppy (Francesca Mills) who has a penchant for Nirvana, alcohol and partying – like any other 21-year-old, she just wants to have fun. She’s also a wheelchair user and, after losing access to a night-time carer, has to suffer the daily ritual humiliation of being put to bed by her friends at 9pm in a nappy. There is a lot to be angry about here; over the course of the play we see the realities and differing approaches of those who rarely have the spotlight shone on them.
What caught us completely off-guard was the play’s sense of humour. Of course we’re dealing with some serious subject matter here, and many of the scenes are rightly very moving and poignant; but others are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Regular, unexpected and smart punchlines land with a consistent hit rate. Whether our characters are knocking back stupid questions with witty retorts, or others are being gleefully economical with the truth, when they’re re-interpreting the questions of a man with a speech impediment after an MP mishears him, we ended up laughing far more than we expected to given the subject matter.
It doesn’t get everything right – the MP character is a little on the one-dimensional side and his son, while playing an important role and having a handful of strong moments, could also do with a little more development. But All of Us offers us some wonderful interactions; it may at times be a challenging and uncomfortable watch, but this urgent state-of-the-nation address is a powerful piece of theatre, and one that gives a voice to communities that need to be heard. Well worth your time.
GAY TIMES gives All of Us – 4/5
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