Stand (Battersea Arts Centre)

Chris Goode’s verbatim piece comes to BAC

Company of Stand
Company of Stand
© Richard Davenport

What do you stand for? What do you stand up to? What do you let stand?

Chris Goode's latest verbatim piece, made in Oxford last year, is deceptively simple. It’s comprised of six testimonials from local residents, each of whom claims to have taken a stand in some way, but Stand makes activism look multi-faceted – as present in everyday life as it is in a climate camp.

Goode lines up six actors in a row, each of them standing in for an Oxford resident and reading their words verbatim off a music stand. Sat on stools, like some moralistic boyband ready to rise for a key change, they talk to us directly – about their childhoods, their ideals and their actions.

In the line-up are two climate change activists: one who superglues herself to buildings; the other, protesting oil sponsorship of the arts. One’s anti-vivisection, stood in the same spot every Thursday, quietly holding up his sign. A former photojournalist, who framed protests into media-friendly images, tries to save a local protest space; a woman, insistent on the freedom to roam, works with immigrants before moving into local politics. Another turns up to talk about her daughter, who stood up for a homeless man on a bus, not fully appreciating that adopting her in the first place was every bit as selfless an act.

As an artist, Goode seems to stand back. He presents these people and lets you make up your own minds about them. Sometimes their activism looks self-indulgent and small-fry – why protest oil sponsorship over oil drilling, for example – until it gets results. Elsewhere, it can seem ineffectual: a weekly vigil so routine its invisible. Does that make it any less worthwhile? Does it make one complicit? These are difficult questions, all shades of grey, and one is reminded, constantly, of the impossibility of doing all good things.

Stands can be given as well as taken – and Goode is also, in a way, rewarding these individuals with a platform from which to preach. Yet Naomi Dawson’s design, six identical booths, serves a reminder that causes compete. Each sets out their stall (or, rather, their stand) and we can’t help but weigh them up.

Goode does this better than anyone. He takes an ostensibly simple idea – taking a stand – and reveals all its hidden depths. It’s like holding Perspex up to the sun and looking at the light it refracts. Stand has layers like you wouldn’t believe. It is a deeply thoughtful, careful piece of theatre. One line of thinking examines place – where you stand being as important as what you stand for; another asks what people can represent, what they stand for.

Stand is a good thing, regardless of whether it’s a good watch or not. You don’t judge a charity’s Donate Now button on its design, but on how often it’s clicked. Stand is not a show to get fired up about – the voices are too similar, their stories too fragmented and it doesn’t half feel worthy at times – but it did give me a big old push towards volunteering – as it will others. It boils down to what you want your art to do: entertain, enlighten or enact some form of change. Stand, in its own small way, will make a difference. It might just change the world – a bit.

Stand runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 9 May, before touring to Bristol, Ipswich and Edinburgh