Home Theatre; Friday 21st April 2017.
Question: What is Brexit? What does it all mean?
Answer: Brexit means Brexit.
Inadequate as it is, one year on from the referendum that shook the United Kingdom, Theresa May’s bizarre slogan still seems to be the only viable and factually accurate explanation that any of us have.
Brexit is still easily the hottest of hot topics, yet every single one of us is clueless, we’re all stood there looking at each other, index finger on the chin, eyes darting left, eyes darting right. This then surely makes it great material for a play?
In the days following the referendum in 2016, director Rufus Norris set about interviewing and recording the opinions of ordinary people all over the country. Led by writer Carol Ann Duffy, these interviews became the spine of a new play: My Country; A Work In Progress. So does this play shed any new light on the matter?
The performance begins with Britannia (a.k.a. Britney) calling a meeting to hear from her people: stereotypical personifications of the country’s regions then emerge to put forward their case: Caledonia, Cymru, East Midlands, North East, Northern Ireland and the South West.
A passionate debate ensues. What plays out on stage for just over an hour is exactly what’s been playing out in real life for the past year or so: everyone’s got an opinion, but no one has any real answers.
And this then leads to the big problem with this play: clearly it was never going to answer the big questions, but then what actually is this play trying to achieve?
There are some superb elements of comedy, most notably the ritualised offering of a Geordie pizza. Comedy is perhaps where this performance should have stayed because, as with real life, the whole sorry state of affairs is ripe for it.
Interspersed among the comedic lines were some very serious messages, almost too serious, like when Comic Relief spoil the flow of your Friday night’s entertainment by reminding you that there’s a serious problem out there. This is almost how I felt when I watched this, like I was being preached at – which, ironically, we now know was a major stick-it-to-the-toffs driver of many who voted to leave.
This performance was the theatrical equivalent of spending an hour randomly reading other people’s blatherings on Twitter: some of it’s sad, some of it’s hilarious, someone tries to be serious and save the world, someone else is highly offensive, someone makes a really good point, etc. But there’s no net emotional result at the end of this play, I just feel like I watched some stuff, some of which was funny, some of which made me cringe, maybe I should have just spent an hour on Twitter instead?
Every member of this cast delivers a lively and entertaining performance, they can’t be faulted for their acting talents and delivery styles. But then there’s something rather troubling about this play, from a conceptual point of view: it’s constructed from transcripts of interviews with real, ordinary people. Yet this means that the actual voice of the ordinary person is literally not heard, it’s delivered (skilfully enough) through the medium of an actor/actress putting on an accent and speaking for them.
It just doesn’t feel right.