We Ask These Questions of Everybody is a 50-minute live and digital operatic event attempting to share disabled people’s experiences of the interview assessments carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions. Most of it takes the form of an interview by the DWP assessor with the person claiming Universal Credit and more practical help to try to understand that person’s needs. As such this ‘opera’ is not only fascinating, it is also quite hypnotic at times, mainly because the writer and director, Toria Banks, has decided to make it as impersonal as possible, so we never see any human beings at all, we just hear them whilst looking at what they are singing or saying on screen.
The music by Amble Skuse complements this way of presenting the material very well, being very bleak in texture as well as never overwhelming the piece and being surprisingly melodic. It is performed by the singer Victoria Oruwari who contrives to get the right balance between singing and meaning and whose diction is perfect, Steph West who, as well as singing also plays the harp to great effect, instrumentalist Sonia Alloria and musician Clarence Adoo.
The text of the piece is drawn from real conversations, including comments on the form of the assessment, designed to share disabled people’s experiences of the ‘system’.
If it has a fault, it is perhaps slightly too long – it would pack more punch if it were more concise and the first half (the interview) is more powerful than the second, perhaps because it is difficult to believe that some of the inane questions put by the assessor are actually asked in a real DWP interview – which they are!
This is a compelling piece of drama, told very inventively using music and graphics, and needs to be more widely seen than it probably will be on YouTube where it can be viewed until 28th February. However, one’s sympathies are not only with the interviewee, under great pressure to give the ‘right answers’, whatever they are, in order to get much-needed assistance, they also extend to the interviewer/assessor who has to put these questions time after time during the course of a day/week/month/year.
Surely, the opera seems to be saying, there MUST be a better, less intrusive, way of assessing need.
Highly recommended – much praise to all involved: this needs to be seen!
Review by John Groves
Find a disabled community, they will save your life, they will teach you many things.
How to survive in a world that’s not made for you.
This is an encounter between two women, an audience, and a riotous chorus of disabled voices.
With text drawn from real conversations; samples, soundscapes and singing; creative captioning and audio description; it shares radical, utopian disabled perspectives on self, society and the body.
We Ask These Questions of Everybody is a 50-minute live and digital operatic event sharing disabled people’s experiences under austerity in the UK, performed by an exceptional cross-genre, all-disabled ensemble.
A soundfestival commission by Amble Skuse and Toria Banks, featuring Clarence Adoo MBE, Sonia Allori, Victoria Oruwari and Steph West.