A reviews round-up of All of Us, playing in the Dorfman Theatre at the National Theatre until 24 September 2022.
This powerful new play, inspired by real life experiences of disabled people in the UK, is written by and stars Francesca Martinez, the award-winning author, comedian and actor, and is directed by Ian Rickson.
In the play, Jess has a great life: a job she loves, a sharp sense of humour and a close group of friends. When austerity threatens the world she has worked hard to build, Jess makes a stand to protect those she holds most dear.
"Taking aim at Tories"
"The jokes soon dry up and go down the partisan plughole."
"Tory scum kill disabled people: that might have been a more honest title for Francesca Martinez’s All of Us. Martinez, who has cerebral palsy, has written and acts in a three-hour play attacking the government for not spending more on disability benefits. Initially her trenchant views are sugared by humour and by her willowy performance. The early scenes challenge presumptions and offer useful insights about our over-bureaucratised care system. Well before the end, alas, the show goes down a partisan plughole, squandering political sympathy and losing its dramatic poise."
"Disablism, austerity and therapy-speak fuel Francesca Martinez’s jolting drama"
"There are startling, sparkling episodes in All of Us, revelatory moments when you hear and see experiences new to the stage of the National, which is working hard to expand the repertoire of the lives it projects."
"A play that sets out rightly to challenge the idea of normality, justly to take on government negligence, weakens its accomplishments by turning drama into dilemma."
"Immaculate comic timing' but lacks 'under the weight of its ambition"
"It wrongfoots us from the start. Cerebral palsy sufferer Jess (Francesca Martinez) takes a chair in a therapy session."
"The debut play from actress and stand-up comic Martinez continues in this vein as a variety of disabilities are addressed and then not so much undermined as carpet bombed with humour."
"All of Us is a state-of-the-nation play: a frank, often funny, often shocking drama about what it is to be disabled or have a chronic condition in contemporary Britain."
"Martinez’s Jess, played with great warmth and wit by the author in Ian Rickson’s staging, has cerebral palsy (though Martinez prefers to describe herself as “wobbly”)."
"Martinez’s Jess refuses to get angry; her play, on the other hand, is very angry. It is at its best when it sticks tightly with its characters, showing us, rather than telling us, the details of the grim impact of government policies, cuts and shortages. Where it goes astray is in trying to encompass a whole raft of issues: there are sections of dialogue that become more political rant than political play, which undercuts its impact."
"An enlightening, infuriating plea for acceptance"
"Comedian Francesca Martinez's play about the effect of austerity on the disabled is witty and moving – but then comes the diatribe"
"The term “lived experience” has become increasingly prevalent in the arts: the idea that first-hand knowledge is needed to authentically convey something. That can be easily debunked (presumably Shakespeare didn’t actually commit multiple murders), but All of Us, a Covid-delayed play about the effect of welfare reform and austerity on disabled people, does gain a core truthfulness – along with sparky humour and raw anger – thanks to its creation by comedian Francesca Martinez, who has cerebral palsy."
"Francesca Martinez’s urgent call for radical empathy"
"Personal, political and polemical, this intensely moving play about disability and austerity challenges preconceptions"
"As Francesca Martinez’s urgent, funny and intensely moving play begins, two women – one with cerebral palsy (“I prefer ‘wobbly’”), the other able-bodied – arrive for a therapy session. We might assume the disabled woman is the patient but in the first of many reversals of expectation, it’s not so. Jess (Martinez) is the compassionate therapist … yet she can’t follow her own advice and expose her fury, need and vulnerability."
"A compelling, rage-filled portrait of disabled life under austerity"
"Illuminating and sporadically witty look at being disabled in Tory Britain"
"This remains a compelling piece of work, in which a huge and theatrically under-represented sector of the British population – 14.6 million people according to Scope – takes centre stage. It has many laugh-out-loud lines. Martinez has written herself an excessively sympathetic lead role, and delivers some of the script’s best gags with due aplomb, but there is also something honest and exposing in the way she presents “wobbliness”, and a wide spread of the disabled experience, on stage. But to deny that this show could have been much, much better would be deeply patronising."
"Fizzes with rage and protest"
"Martinez, who has lived with cerebral palsy all her life but prefers the term ‘wobbly’, gives a warm and funny performance as Jess, a kind-hearted therapist who thrives on helping others but struggles to ask for help herself. When Jess is forced to pointlessly have her disability reassessed (a notoriously degrading process with a limited view of the nuances of disability, so much so that there’s a petition to scrap it), she loses part of her Personal Independence Payment. As a result, a domino effect is triggered – impacting her work, social life and sense of self."
"A well-intentioned drama becomes a rant"
"Martinez’s anger is palpable throughout, but the piece is so stacked against the evil Conservative frauds and liars that you begin to feel you are being recruited for a demo along the South Bank. Equally unconvincing (and ethically dubious) is Jess’s romantic relationship with an alcoholic patient (Bryan Dick) who, we discover, is the ultimate victim of hard-faced, free-market ideology."
"“All of Us,” the first play from the performer Francesca Martinez, opens our eyes to the hardships of disabled people in Britain."
"The play’s director, Ian Rickson, brings his characteristic compassion to a deeply intimate scene in which Poppy is put to bed."
"It might seem a contrivance too far when Aidan is revealed to be the son of the Conservative minister responsible for the disability services cuts from which Jess and Poppy are reeling. But that coincidence allows a play rooted in individual circumstances to broaden into a politically charged cry for help."