If you are really into theatre (and social media), last week on the 27th of March your Twitter feed was probably full of hashtags for World Theatre Day. It’s safe to say we were all cool with it, right?
Same week, on the 29th, sadly something else was the talk of every feed: Theresa May was officially triggering Article 50 and starting the process that sees the UK leaving the EU as a result of last year’s referendum, and that’s that. Sadly (have I said that already?).
But right in the middle, on the 28th of March, My Country; a work in progress, the National Theatre’s response to Brexit, began its tour around the UK. Maybe a fortunate coincidence for this to fall between the two days, definitely the umpteenth example of the power of theatre when it comes to addressing history – not just from the past, but as it happens in the present and as it could be in the future.
Michael Billington wrote that one of the things a ‘National Theatre’ is expected to do is “debate or embody the state of the nation”[*] – I think My Country does that just fine.
Britannia (Britney, as her friends call her) is desperate to hear what her people have to say, and invites the audience to listen carefully with her. Through the words, the accents, the stories and opinions of people brought to us by Caledonia, Cymru, East Midlands, North East, Northern Ireland and South West, the nation, made of leavers and remainers alike, lives on stage. We get to hear from people of all ages and backgrounds, we even see Britannia doing the best impressions of political protagonists like Farage, Boris and, of course, Theresa May. It’s a play made of funny, crazy, intense moments, and it all sounds even better – or not – when you realise that as a verbatim piece, the words you hear had actually been spoken by real people…!
I don’t know about you, but I died a bit inside when Britannia stops to listen to the votes: a simple, yet significant succession of ‘Stay’, ‘Leave’, ‘I voted remain’, ‘Leave’, ‘Leave’, followed by a recap of the reactions after the final result – happiness, relief, surprise, shock and anger. All sorts of emotions picturing a nation, and its people, that must remain united to face what’s to come. It’s not theatrical fiction, it’s happening and it still sounds absurd.
Although it could seem like it took a while for the National to respond to the referendum..
..it was worth the wait. In all honesty, it’s clear that this piece had to go through a good period of development, and it takes time to listen to what everybody has to say.
My Country is a powerful take on an event that will haunt Britannia for a very long time and we do believe that the most important thing is to keep responding, discussing and creating, regardless of how long it takes.
Rumour has it that there will be a TV adaptation of this play, but see it first on stage if you can!
My Country; a work in progress
A new play by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and director Rufus Norris, with real interviews and speeches from party leaders. Now on tour.
If you were able to catch the play at the National or around the UK, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it 🙂
[*] Billington, M. (2007) State of the nation. London: Faber and Faber.