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Review: Under The Carpet

Foodbanks, mass-produced bread and Boris Johnson's gaffs are a few of the things Radio 4 playwright Sarah Woods feels are brushed Under the Carpet.

Playwright, performer and air pollution campaigner Sarah Woods by Christa Holka

Under the Carpet is an intelligent, articulate response to the state-of-the-nation post-Brexit and Donald Trump.

It’s more of a highly political spoken word polemic on the injustices of warfare, foodbanks, Universal Credit and Boris Johnson than a drama – split into Part I, Part II & Part III.

The fourth of 9 new commissions as part of Coventry’s award-winning Theatre Absolute Are We Where We Are? project Sarah Woods new work follows on from three strong performance pieces written and performed by women, including Rabiah Hussain’s wonderful monologue Where I Live and What I Live For; Laila Alj’s I am Here and May Utang by Jules Orcullo.

#4 Under The Carpet. Photography by Andrew Moore

Under the Carpet came about after she was asked to write Borderland for Radio 4 a year ago and found herself interviewing Kaveh, a Kurdish refugee in his 40s living in Coventry.

What was particularly moving was that Kaveh was in the audience with his young family, as Sarah retells part of his story in Part I.

Originally from Iran he experienced war from aged three to 12. The bombing was so intense his parents did not allow him or his siblings to take off their shoes or warm clothes in case they needed to evacuate their home.

Not only did Kaveh see people killed, but survived the bombing of his school – just 15 metres from where he stood. He didn’t talk for three months, and lost his hearing.

Clearly a woman with her finger on the pulse Sarah’s writing for BBC Radio 4 includes a post-Brexit play, Borderland, an adaptation of William Morris’ News From Nowhere and a commission to adapt Karl Marx’ Das Kapital. 

This year she’s performed Neoliberalism – The Break-up Tour in London with author and political economist Andrew Simms and in 2015 performed The Roadless Trip with her teenage daughter Lil to more than 20 community groups across the UK (I’d like to hear the behind-the-scenes story to that!)

The Roadless Trip. Photo by John Hunter

This new work performed at Coventry’s Shop Front Theatre in City Arcade looks at issues Brit’s like to sweep under the carpet – the plight of refugees escaping war; the UK’s “industrial bread-making system”; the necessity of a new navy aircraft carrier and Boris Johnson’s catalogue of embarrassing boo-boo’s.

In Part II Sarah draws on her own experience as a foodbank volunteer in Hertfordshire. “Foodbanks are a symbol of inequality” she says, “When people hand over a voucher they hand over their self-worth”.  Quoting research from The Trussell Trust Sarah says in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out foodbanks have seen an increase in referrals more than double the national average.

#4 Under The Carpet

Finally, Sarah shares a lovely story Kaveh told her in Part III about an old man he met at a church giving out free tea and coffee who takes him to buy some new shoes. What’s uplifting is when Kaveh tells Sarah: “I am a person who has hope.”

Despite missing out on an education, Kaveh is now in the early stages of training to be a doctor, Sarah reveals in a post-show talk-back.

Points are illustrated with interesting stats and quotes ranging from a Welsh Atmospheric physicist at Oxford University to some wise words from Pope Francis. It does feel a slight information overload – the piece is only 25-minutes long. But you do walk away questioning your own individual – as well as collective  – global impact on tomorrow.

A thought-provoking, sharply-written and hugely relevant critique.

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