[Written by Ella Field]
[Image Credits: Beth Chalmers]
Content Warning: This article contains discussion of racial discrimination.
Taking our seats in the small, 50-people theatre at The Tron, the space is intimate and there is tension in the air. Hannah Lavery, the writer and performer for the night, sits in an armchair in the corner of the stage, her irate gaze staring unblinkingly in the distance. Fast, urgent jazz music plays in the background, adding to the feeling of anticipation for the performance about to begin. It is clear just from this starting atmosphere, that this piece was not written for easy listening. It is crafted to make us think, reflect and feel. The Drift achieves this last goal exactly as Lavery takes the audience on a journey through the patchwork of her life, the centre point of her reflections being her experiences growing up Scottish and mixed-race. Through this lens, Lavery confronts the themes of love, belonging, bereavement and identity in an exquisitely candid and honest performance.
Lavery’s narrative begins with her father’s sudden death. From here, she explores a complicated grief, charged with feelings of resentment at the relative absence of her father and regret for both this resentment and the things left unsaid between them. Losing the person who contributed to her mixed-raced identity appears to reignite in Lavery questions of belonging and identity that she has had since childhood. Her performance is filled with heart, layers and changes of rhythm. With grace and skill, the pace of the poem changes from thoughtful and reflective to passionate hysteria, then to humour. With these energetic variations and with a talented expressive performance, Lavery keeps the audience utterly engaged and hanging on her every word. The range of movement, tone and pitch evokes the intensity of her emotions. In fact, Lavery performs using her entire body and exploring all of the stage.
The humanity of the performance is especially powerful given her identity. In fact, not only does Lavery inform the viewer of Scotland’s problematic history and its existing legacy, but she uses her searing honesty to invite the viewer to empathise with the difficult experiences of ethnic minorities. In this sense, her words are challenging people to think of the Scottish influence in the slave trade and also the prevailing racism that exists today in Scotland.
Lavery’s piece encourages the audience to contemplate what ‘Scottish identity’ means, her ‘sweet forgetful Caledonia’ being both ‘hers’ but also a somewhat unwelcoming home. She talks of her father, born in Edinburgh in the 40’s, being asked repeatedly “Where are you from, boy?”, despite his Scottish nationality. Lavery talks with an air of sadness of her dad wearing his Scottishness with pride and talking of Edinburgh as ‘his city’ whilst he was never embraced as a national simply because of the colour of his skin. This experience is not exclusive to 1940s Scotland, but extends to today as Lavery’s monologue comes full circle when she talks about her son experiencing racism in the park at age 8. It begs the audience to ask the question: what does it mean to be Scottish? The Scotland we all recognise has its foundations firmly set in its history of colonisation and slave trade. Whilst Scotland prides itself on its inclusivity and diversity, Lavery makes the point clear that this uncomfortable history still has its talons dug deep in this society. Lavery challenges us to open our eyes to the less than rosy reality; she invites us to think about how to act to create and be part of a more accepting and integrating Scotland in an increasingly globalised world.
All in all, Lavery confronts crucial issues of our time with intelligence, subtlety and incredible emotion. The audience members are left questioning their role in perpetuating the status quo, what it means to have a British/Scottish identity and what can be done to overcome divisions in our society. The Drift breaks the mould of who is allowed to claim Scottish identity, and is an overall outstanding and thought-provoking piece.