Quarter Life Crisis // Yolanda Mercy

This lyrical monologue documents the quarter-life crisis of its main character Alicia Adewale. It’s the crisis that comes about through that odd return to childhood forced on graduates and young people by unaffordable rents, casualisation and wealth inequality. The one of leaving home, achieving independence and then returning as though nothing has changed. This tension is at the heart of the performance, the comforting familiarity of being back in a parent’s house and slipping back into the childhood role that goes with it. Embracing unquestioning support, less as an alternative to independence as much as one of the only options available.

The performance is built out of teenage and twenty-something memories and reflections on nights out, with the changing lives of friends and potential new responsibilities looming into focus. And as much as Adewale, a young Londoner of Nigerian descent, measures herself against friends and their marriages, children and homes, she also compares her situation to the histories of parents and distant relatives. The age she is now the same age as her mother was when she had her. The same age as grandparents who left their homes for a better life, the same age as ancestors were elected king or stolen as slaves. Adults, independent and fully formed, with a strong sense of who they were, and yet she still relies on her mother for everything.

But what Quarter Life Crisis correctly implies is that this deferral of adulthood is not the fault of the young people it traps. The tabloid label of the ‘boomerang generation’ deemphasises the responsibilities of those gone before. The shift away from job security in favour of the gig economy, and the housing crisis that leaves flats unavailable and houses unattainable, was not initiated by Adewale’s generation. Nor was the wild variation between the pay of those at the top and those just starting out. The delay in independence is simply a consequence of late capitalism.

The state of the Young Person’s Railcard, something referenced throughout the performance, reveals this truth. The recently announced extensions, the 26 to 30-year-old ‘Young Workers’ card, continues to move the goalposts of achieving full adulthood past your twenties entirely. Absent from the conversation is the idea that the current economy is unsustainable, that in a situation where 30 years old requires a discount simply to travel to work it might be a deeper, more structural problem that needs addressing.

-       Lewis Church 


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Yolanda Mercy  - Quarter Life Crisis

Is the New 25-30 Railcard Just An Attempt to Distract?The Badger

Boomerang Children - Guardian

Lack of Choice and Moving Back HomeThe DeBrief

Young People’s Changing Routes to Independence (2002) – Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Cotton Panic!

Cotton Panic! explores the knock-on effects of the abolishment of slavery in the USA on the cotton industry in Manchester in the 1860s. The show began by focusing on the working conditions in the mills and moved through the struggle that resulted from the lack of raw materials after the slaves were freed from the cotton fields in the South of the USA. The growing movement for worker’s rights in the UK supported the abolition but the transition to more ethically sourced material was not easy.

Today, working conditions have vastly improved in both the UK and USA but 150 years after that tumultuous time there are still large numbers of exploited workers elsewhere in the world. NASA images from 2014 showed that the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan (formerly the world’s fourth largest lake) had completely dried up. The loss was attributed to intensive cotton farming which uses very large amounts of water. But the crop was also being harvested using forced labour, sanctioned by the Uzbek government, making this both an environmental and humanitarian disaster.

According to an article published in The Guardian at the time, the harvested cotton would most likely be shipped to Bangladesh and China who are key suppliers of European brands. Further down the supply chain, the conditions in some Bangladeshi clothing factories were widely criticized after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza which cost 1,135 people their lives and injured a further 2,515. The collapse was blamed on the swampy unstable ground outside of the capital Dhaka and an additional four floors that were added to factory without permission.

The fight to end exploitation of workers in the cotton industry is far from over, but there are ways that both individuals and companies can bring about positive change. Organisations such as the Cotton Campaign aim to end the exploitation of cotton workers in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan by advocating to the governments in those countries and other governments, companies, investors and international institutions who may be able to influence them. They also aim to raise public awareness and support civil liberties to end both child labour and forced labour in the cotton fields.

Although these working conditions would be unimaginable in European businesses, the products produced using these methods often make it to European suppliers. This means that it’s also up to companies and consumers here to say no to unethically sourced clothing. Unsustainably cheap clothing comes with a hidden human cost measured in misery, but by choosing to shop ethically we can help to end this exploitation. (TP)

- Tom Patterson

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Cotton Campaign

The Aral Sea Basin - Guardian

The Rana Plaza Collapse - The Independent

Modern Cotton Production Facts

The Struggle for Worker's Rights