National Theatre: My Country, A Work In Progress
Sherman Cymru, Cardiff
Wednesday 3rd May 2017
Brexit means Brexit right? But for the people of Britain it seems to mean a myriad of things from the expression (or repression) of a national identity, to the implementation of laws concerning fishing. My Country, A Work in Progress, from the National Theatre, attempts to weave together these disparate ideas to create a tapestry of opinion from across the divided kingdom.
The play comprises a fictional meeting between Britannia, the spirit of Britain, and the representatives of her various regions; Caledonia, Cymru, East Midlands, North East, Northern Ireland and the South West, gathered that she may hear the voices of her people before the Referendum. Stories are unravelled, rhetorical blows are traded and the voices of the British people are heard. The creative team interviewed people across the length and breadth of the country to give voice to each region, and their views collide and coalesce as the meeting unfolds.
A collaboration between poet Carol Ann Duffy and National Theatre Director Richard Norris, the show is as sumptuous and articulate as you’d imagine the brainchild of a poet and director to be. Ordinary people’s words are spun into arias on class divides, racial divides, haves and have nots. The simple set is made to sing.
The meal section is a gorgeous, silly celebration of difference in a play that centres on division. Caledonia share’s his whiskey, North East leads karaoke and proffers chips, Cymru encourages a Shirley Bassey mime-along. In the heart of all the bickering and division, it offers a pause, a beat of celebration of the differences that make us a kaleidoscopic whole.
The cast is sickeningly skilled. Every actor twirls through a plethora of voices, bodies hunching and straightening, accents deepening and drifting, yet each persona is distinct and characterful. Special mention must be made to Curtis, 13 of Merthyr Tydfil, whose childish innocence is all the more arresting for being played out by a large welsh man of quite clearly more than 13 years of age. Britannia also deserves recognition for perfectly encapsulating both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in expressive arm gestures and facial contortions.
Sadly, the show offered no real revelations; only one or two comments seemed to delve beyond the issue that clouded the debate; namely immigration, and a bit more immigration. I expected more nuance. Something that would dig beyond what I’ve already heard and reveal the opposing sides in a new light, but the chosen comments seemed to be more of the same vox-pops you heard for months pre-referendum on any given news channel.
I was surprised that London was not represented – and choosing Merthyr over Cardiff, and Gloucester over Bristol seems to deny the “liberal metropolitan elite” their airtime. Whether or not you think this group gets enough representation on Twitter and in the press, a play that seeks to hear Britain’s voices should really be hearing all of them.
If you’re looking for a play that will shake your Brexit convictions, then keep looking. But My Country takes much of the ugly bellowing around Brexit and transforms it into something sharp and poetic – and that’s a rather commendable thing.
All images: Facebook.com/nationaltheatre
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