Bite Your Tongue, Hackney Empire
A Work in Progress
Bite Your Tongue is bursting with ideas, energy, earnestness and enthusiasm. I admire the many views and ideas portrayed in the play. It covered so many issues including: what is black culture? What is black identity? Bite Your Tongue questioned how the various cultures derived from the Caribbean and African diaspora have developed and changed over the generations. The play made references to the appropriation of black culture, segregation, sexuality, feminism, masculinity, and online bullying. However, there was not enough time for these issues to be explored in depth. As a result of the overflow of ideas, issues and scenarios and the number of characters, there was some stereotyping and insufficient character development. At times I felt Bite Your Tongue was like a clever and fast-paced sketch show rather than a play with an overarching plot. It was a show which opened the window to various points of view, which meant that they were skimmed over and not explored in the depth I would like. I wanted to go deeper.
I am aware that the play was written and developed by the 18- 25-year-old performers, collaborating with established artists, through rehearsal and improvisation. So there was an abundance of fresh and pertinent ideas. However, it would benefit from being more clearly structured. I had understood all and experienced most of the racist and sexist behaviors depicted in Bite Your Tongue. I believe the audience was also fully aware of and had lived through these micro aggressions, hence the laughter of recognition. So who was the target audience?
There were strong performances from the cast as individual characters and as ensembles. I enjoyed the intelligent use of songs, some of which were original and some used as cultural references to underscore key issues, moving the play along. I enjoyed the harmonies. Movement and dance were also used to successfully change the pace and mood of the play from scene to scene. The physical portrayal of social media, such as live-streaming and real-time posts worked well; it was clever and funny. The cast fully exploited their multiple talents as writers, actors, singers, and dancers to great effect.
I feel very hopeful that the multi-talented group of writers/actors/ singers who have written and performed in Bite Your Tongue, have confidently continued and, maybe for some, started a conversation about our role in the world. I believe there is much more to come from this confident cast. The future is bright.
Bite Your Tongue, is a new devised production by London’s emerging black talent, presented by Talawa Theatre Company. At Hackney Showrooms from 31st August – 2nd September 2017.