Deftly organised as a loose narrative, the conversations shine a spotlight on the contentious topics that emerged from the referendum campaign of 2016, and tackles the question of what it really means to be British. After opening at the National's Dorfman Theatre, My Country will tour around the UK to the end of June, engaging with the national part of the theatre’s title and reaching out to the rest of Britain.
The set reflects the play’s framing device. Desks and ballot boxes line the stage, with Britannia (and her plumed helmet) at its centre. A meeting between representatives of Britain’s regions and nations has been assembled in a state of emergency, and this time Britannia has ‘invited an audience’ to witness and, more importantly, listen to what each representative, and their people, have to say. It was the actor’s responsibility, therefore, to differentiate between each individual using accent, intonation and physicality (which they did expertly), and honour the original recordings of those brave enough to give their thoughts on race, relationships and Cameron, with umms and pauses included.
Light comedy, often from Penny Layden’s embodiment of leading politicians, steers this work away from dry and dense debate. The play’s heart and intrigue comes from the honesty of those speaking, Duffy’s poignant words, and each region’s commitment to their definitive style of music and dance. Yet, disagreements are rife, and it isn’t long until the once attentive and respectful room of representatives, all positioned in a straight line on the stage, become jaded, disgruntled and scattered. ‘We’re not one size fits all’ observes a resident of Derry. Brexit proved far more complicated than a simple yes or no answer. It unveiled the significance of Britain’s history, the issue of its former worldly prestige, and how people actually feel living side by side with others of different races. ‘We’ve all got a front door and back door, haven’t we?’
Some of the voices are revealed as not wanting to antagonise and reduce discussion to a pure dislike and suspicion of those from other cultures – in contrast to the reality for others, that the vote was more about immigration than our wider relationship with Europe.
The National Theatre seems to be the only place where people would pay to listen, for an uninterrupted hour-and-a-half, to opinions that may well differ starkly from their own, especially on a topic as emotive, and seemingly personal, as Brexit. Britannia, acutely distressed by the discord, asks ‘Are you listening? Do I hear you listening?’ She needn’t have feared. There was no doubt that the audience, myself included, were hanging on every word.
Click here to explore the full National Theatre 2017 season
|What||My Country; a work in progress, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
01 Mar 17 – 22 Mar 17, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£15 - £35|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|