In these times of ecological decline, corporate hegemony and inequality in various forms, it is all too easy for one to feel pessimistic. In writer and director Chris Goode’s thought provoking verbatim piece ‘Stand’, however, we get insight into the actions of individuals who in their own small ways strive to make the world, and their own little corners within, that little bit brighter.
After originally asking Oxford locals to nominate themselves or others who have committed brave acts of standing up for something they believe in, Goode interviewed the six that he found most fascinating and transcribed them into the scripts to be performed by six actors on stage. Akin to some sort of casual political debate with each actor lined up before the audience on a row of stools, we hear both short exchanges and lengthy monologue as they deliver their stories of everyday heroism.
We hear about a former photo-journalist using his talents to fight the cause of saving a local boatyard under threat from redevelopment, a climate-change activist who superglues herself to a fracking company’s PR headquarters and a lady who, having developed an early insistence on geographical freedom, takes up work with immigrants before going into local politics.
The stories both interrupt and overlap each other as, separate to each person’s tale of activism, we also hear stories of their respective enjoyments of childhood and therefore formative clues as to their eventual adult selves; be it playing on the grass, building boats for woodlouse out of leaves or watching cows in the countryside, these were all fuel to an escapist childhood idealism that perhaps never completely deserts us: that the world is essentially good and anything is possible.
‘Stand’ also raises issues regarding the value of protest such as when we hear the story of an impassioned animal rights activist who, every Thursday for fifteen years, peacefully protested outside a vivisection lab. He has no idea whether or not his efforts had any effect but is this any reason to stop? If you truly feel strongly about something, should you ever let anything detrimental to such beliefs go unchallenged irrespective of the outcome?
In an otherwise sober and understated show, the highlight arrives in the theatrical re-enactment of an anti-BP soliloquy that was actually performed in guerrilla fashion before a theatre performance in protest of British Petroleum’s sponsoring of the Royal Shakespeare Company; an act of rebelliousness that perhaps successfully impeded the company from sponsoring the RSC in subsequent years.
In this age of political apathy and important global concerns being seemingly commandeered by the whims of big business, ‘Stand’ is a show that feels very relevant and of its time; highlighting how direct action is the only real way of enforcing the change we each wish to see in the world, it offers an optimistic insight as to how we as individuals can make a difference. However, it is also tinged with a concrete realism; one character accepts that it is too late to do anything about climate change and a proud mother’s tale of her daughter’s support for a homeless man being victimised on a bus seems to stress that our most prevalent victories can only be a result of exercising kindness towards each other.
‘Stand’ is an attempt at starting a debate to eventually create a better world. As with many forms of protest this position is admirable, not in what it will actually achieve, but what it sets out to achieve. It’s a sentiment that seems to echo its own words: “Reach for the highest thing possible – you’re only likely to get halfway there.”