Francesca Martinez is a superb stand-up comedian, actor and author.
She’s also – we now know – an equally magnificent playwright.
All of Us, which opened at the National Theatre to ★★★★★ from the Guardian, is a play about austerity, and the very real ways it affects disabled people in the UK. It’s a powerful, frustrated, darkly witty howl of rage, protesting the indifference and cruelty of ‘welfare reform’, and PIP and ETA assessments (and reassessments).
Martinez, who has cerebral palsy (she prefers “wobbly”), plays Jess, a therapist who is unable to follow her own advice, and seeks out excessive control in her own life. By contrast, there’s Poppy, played by the terrific Francesca Mills. A wheelchair user with restricted growth, Poppy is a free-spirited hedonist, a “woozy floozy” who’s preferred evening itinerary includes a spliff and a Tinder date. But it’s not, of course, all fun and games – the privations of austerity mean that Poppy is no longer has night care, and is forced to sleep in a nappy. Jess, meanwhile, loses her access to round-the-clock care when her PIP assessment deems her “mobile”, because she’s capable of walking 20 metres aided or unaided.
It’s grim and it’s unpleasant, and it’s real.
The play is a polemic, but that makes sense – if ever anything were entitled to be polemical, it’s surely the protection and support of the segments of society who truly need it the most. It’s also, at around three hours, a little long. Director Ian Rickson (he of Jerusalem – clearly no stranger to long plays) uses the Dorfman Stage’s revolve to give the audience a clear view of each of the characters, and ensure that we see past the disabilities. The end result is a powerful, moving , unique theatrical experience. It’s a show which, as the Guardian says: “demands we build a society where we can truly see and value one another. Its insistence on radical empathy shines bright.”
National Theatre | Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PX
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