gobscure’s ‘Joey’ work-in-progress play with oppositional defiant dis/order


As part of their The Shape Of Things To Come programme, Camden Peoples’ Theatre recently supported a workshop and a work-in-progress of Joey from gobscure – associate artist with Greyscale. The result was a trawl through the media stories that infect our lives, then and now with the admonition to tell better stories. Review by Colin Hambrook.

Photo of actor Scott Turnbull wearing a flat cap and looking askance at the camera

Scott Turnbull in Joey

There’s an intense ring to gobscure’s take on resistance. Through an afternoon’s workshop the writer, ’visual activist’ and icon of Mad Studies takes us on a journey. He advocates reading between the lines of our daily tabloids to find the real agendas behind news bias.

The Evening Standard – selling the political line of the moral majority – holds a story attacking Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London for wanting to turn London into an oasis of “rabbit hutches” to solve the housing crisis. There is no mention of where the housing crisis has come from.

Gobscure encourages us to think about what isn’t said: the over-inflation of house prices to benefit landlords and property speculators, the notion of ‘affordable homes’ as a sop to admitting that the greed of a certain group of individuals has got out of hand, leaving the capital clogged with housing left empty as High Art stashed in bank vaults.

The front-page heralds a large photo of a smiling, blond-haired white celebrity, advocating the paper’s charity appeal to solve “food poverty”. No mention of ‘austerity’ and the policies’ impact of causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of disabled people. Austerity was yesterday when the Nation State had no money for social security (remember when we had social security – the ideal of citizens being secure, rather than living in fear), or health services or housing or transport or anything that attempted to address poverty and the inequality of the citizens of the country.

We live in a new post-Austerity, pre-post-Brexit era with a bill of £50 billion+ and it wouldn’t wash to pretend there’s no money, anywhere. We’ve accepted that a responsible society is one that punishes its disabled and marginalised peoples, because a good citizen is a good consumer.

The Standard holds ‘Homes & Property’ as its byline in a dirty green –  the colour of lucre. It stands for the monarchy, ‘hard-working families’ and the prosperous as opposed to the rest of us, the ‘scroungers’, sponging off the tax-payer.

In the workshop we make mince of the newspaper, collaging words and images in a form of creative play, leading to an impromptu demonstration of Augusto Boal Newspaper Theatre, as we read out the words we’ve formed in a spontaneous outpouring.

Later, we are invited to watch a rehearsed reading of gobscure’s play Joey performed by Scott Turnbull with integrated BSL interpretation from Faye Alvi. The text follows on from the workshop, embedded with stories that hit the headlines between the years 1981-1991.

Photo of the shadow of actor Scott Turnbull against a projection of the text from the play on a screen behind him

Joey sharing

The similarities to now are searing. The UK has a hard-right government. There are savage cuts in welfare and wages against a backdrop of race hate, riots, hunger strikes and ‘punk’ – the voiceless youth’s call to arms to resist suppression. Joey is the story of three teenagers growing up in care. When disabled author Joey Deacon goes on BBC TV’s Blue Peter, overnight ‘joey’ becomes a term of abuse in schoolyards across the country.

One of our three anti-heroes ‘Spaz’ declares himself a ‘joey’ – reclaims the word in protest against discrimination. There are sparks of electric touching. This is a family of three no-one will steal – set against the world, ready to stand up for justice and for their emerging sense of themselves as sexual beings; railing against normative heterosexist values of state and society.

The language is dense, rhythmical, it jars and spasms with passion – a poetic outpouring. The use of assonance, alliteration and dissonance put me in mind of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker. It’s an epic, rebellious rollercoaster of a story that takes us out on the town squealing John Peel banshee, howling under every star.

Now in 2017, Joey would be labelled with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Back then, in 1981, it was called “asking questions”. Written to the beat of an explosion, Joey asks us to consider our past and our future, with the thought of what can we do to take back control of our destiny.

Scott Turnbull delivers his lines with punch and panache. He and Faye Alvi are brother and sister committed to the text and to each other’s performance. Joey will be gobscure’s first full-length play since the award-winning Collector of Tears. I for one, can’t wait to see it fully developed.

Gobscure currently has a visual poetry exhibition, ‘Prisong’ on at East Ham Library until 15 December as part of Together! 2017 Disability Festival.

Watch a behind-the-scenes interview with gobscure about Joey: