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Tales from the Front Line… and other stories | Review

Monologues in lockdown – there’s been more than enough of those in recent months. These ones, however, have a decent amount of scenery in them, and are much, much more than one person sat, facing the camera, and telling a story in such a way that would have more or less the same effect if it were a radio play instead. Highly topical, Tales From The Front Line comprises intriguing stories from members of the black community. While a lot of the detail in the narratives will be familiar to people who have been keeping up to date with news and current affairs, such as the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and how 2020 has affected us all, these stories provide much more than what could be gleaned from flicking through a newspaper or watching a television news bulletin.

Tales from the Front Line... and other storiesIn the first film, Jo Martin plays a schoolteacher. A remarkable amount of ground is covered in around fifteen minutes, and there are some visuals that intersperse the monologue. The production does well, too, to tell the story in different places – we move from the school hall, to a classroom, then to an office – and the accompanying music is non-intrusive. The narrative itself is insightful, demonstrating for instance quite how out of touch school management teams can be, seeking to discourage conversations about Covid-19, keeping their heads down and attempting to continue ‘business as usual’. In the classrooms, however, the children were understandably asking questions – some of the pupils were evidently more perceptive than senior staff, with at least one having worked out well before the Government finally imposed a lockdown that it was unlikely they would be taking their exams in the normal way that summer.

These monologues allow the audience to get to know these characters and are at the right length to tell a complete story without droning on or getting over-analytical about what happened in their recounting of past events. In the second film, Sapphire Joy plays a member of staff in a mental health hospital. As with the first, the treatment of black people was highlighted of being a particular concern: in the education sector, black pupils are more likely to be excluded, and in psychiatric units, black people are both more likely to be admitted in the first place (especially black men), and whilst there, more likely to be sent to ‘seclusion’, “which is basically solitary confinement”.

Shot to a very high quality, these videos give people who are still rarely given opportunities to speak a platform. Unrestrained, these are people who tell it like it is. There are even unexpected moments of humour – the hospital worker’s proverbial middle finger raised at the 8:00pm ‘Clap for Carers’ (it’s nice, but a pay rise would be better) had me in stitches. It’s worth pointing out that not all the criticism meted out here is directed at non-black people, and there are indications that the enemy within can sometimes be just as dangerous as the enemy without. Perhaps inevitably, some of the content makes for uncomfortable viewing (there’s no fake blood or anything of that sort) – but these are thought-provoking and compelling stories.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In the wake of the Windrush Scandal and the global Black Lives Matter movement, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented an additional challenge to Black key and front line workers’ perceptions of belonging, leading many to demand that a changed society must emerge from it.

Exposing the exhaustion of Black front line workers, and their glimmering hope for a better future, Tales from the Front Line … and other stories uses verbatim interviews to explore the historic Covid-19 crisis and its seismic impact on those at the front line of the pandemic.

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