The Edited Lowlights of My Country

My Country: a work in progress

For Clara Potter Sweet and Rufus Norris


I went into My Country: a work in progress with two assumptions. Number one, that I would either love it or hate it. Number two, that it was the play itself which was the work in progress, not out country.

Both were wrong.

The opening is kind of trite, a little gimmicky (I want to give it the benefit of the doubt but this doesn’t bode well) – “Britannia” or “Britney” as she is (mis)named, comes on stage with the house lights still on from a door in the back of the theatre. A woman behind me says to her husband “Oh shush, it’s started already, pay attention”. The audience are lulled into silence and Carol Ann Duffy’s words begin to be spoken. And they are unmistakeably Carol Ann Duffy – I’m thrown back to my GCSE English class where we told that she is the Poet Laurette and so she is the Best Poet.

With the lights up on the audience it’s clear that this audience is very specific – the average is probably sixty and a large majority are white. Maybe this is Warwick, maybe it’s the show. (I think it’s probably the show)

The rest of the ensemble begin to enter with their various ‘theme tunes’ changed with a remote pointed at the lighting box. As they enter I notice that they are mostly all white, except for one Asian woman. I did already know this would be the case as I read Charlotte Maxwell’s fantastic review. She addresses this issue far better than I ever will.

The lights finally go down and the audience get a real idea of the set which was very basic. School desks which remind of History Boys and Matilda are pushed into the centre. The pushing of the desks is also basic, and looks unrehearsed. There was very little done with the set (at the end the upstage screen lights up orange and the actors wander about behind it), so the words and performances should have been able to carry it. It might have been better to see it in a small black box studio, where the half empty theatre I was sat in would have felt cramped, in a good way. The moving of the desks prefaced the rest of the movement, which lagged behind the fast moving verbatim script. Polly Bennet (People, Places & Things, Pomona, nut) is cited as the movement director and yet I saw none of her undeniable talent translated on stage.

The verbatim script was good and did what it said on the tin, but it didn’t make me feel much. I was kind of just told what I already knew. That this country is a weird mishmash of racist assholes and conservatism and tradition. The comment that was made on the verbatim, whatever it was, came across as clunky and overworked. It was trying to be objective and yet I don’t think a leave voter would have felt it was a show made for them. (Should we be making shows for them? Would they even come and see them?)

The atmosphere was strange. One audience member loudly says “Boris” when Penny Layden did her (arguably wonderful, arguably overdone) impression of Johnson. An audience member also laughed loudly at a white man speaking as a Saudi Arabian. Three people gave a standing ovation, and some jeered (cheered? not sure)

It wasn’t all bad, okay, I liked the singing. I liked the songs. Not the recordings – the live singing of the songs. The rousing chorus made me feel more than the poetry did. The Irish dancing was also good, although I could sense not particularly skilled.

Ultimately, it was meh. Kind of considered not posting this review, but I think I need to stop writing reviews and then never posting them. (Maybe?) I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. It was just a bit boring. And it could DEFINITELY have been a work in progress show (I would have given some good and worthy feedback). Standing outside the theatre, the two (probably) oldest members of the audience walked out, saying “Well that was disappointing” and I really couldn’t have agreed more which seems ironic in the context of Brexit. The show was just an edited collection of lowlights (and occasional highlights) of the British public.

FOOTNOTE: They talked about Donald Trump in a Brexit play. I mean. Really.

Scotland, doing a bad Trump impression: “Fake News”

Britannia: “I love [Scotland’s] independence” 

(And because it was the NATIONAL Theatre they had to talk about the state of the NATION and talk about everyone on a NATIONAL scale about a NATIONAL issue of the NATION – this diss is stolen from Clara PS…sorry)


The Treatment

The Treatment
Written by Martin Crimp. Directed by Lyndsey Turner
Almeida Theatre

“Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.” – King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1

The Treatment at the Almeida looks and feels like the play I’ve been waiting to see my whole life. I’ve read a whole lot of Martin Crimp (although not this particular play) and his writing continues to illuminate new avenues of thought about culture, writing, authorship, and capitalism each time. Then combine that intelligent, buzzing language with an expertly lit, staged, and choreographed spectacle and the whole show takes on a new sense of urgency and agency. There’s running themes of taxis, travelling, bins, cities, sushi, and sex and I love it. The acting is slick but also quite purposely overt and self-consciously theatrical. Everything is seamless and so slick, I just want to relish every moment, but then it’s suddenly gone.

I think the reason I fell in love with the aesthetics of the show straight away was because Turner leads the audience to connect the images of each scene with references they know, or think they know. For me, that was my favourite films. She might have been referencing these in particular, or she might not have been. What she definitely is doing, is echoing the conscious referencing Crimp does in his writing.

The Japanese Restaurant

The framing of this scene from Kill Bill is reflective of the framing of Turner’s scenes in the Japanese restaurant in the show.


The apartment

The apartment of a swanky and possibly sincere, but also very possibly lonely and sleazy and not sincere at all, man. It’s bathed in a purple glow, the block colours separating the room into thirds, cut in half by the white leather couch in the middle of the stage. I think it would smell the same as the hotel in Lost in Translation.


The taxi

Turner’s use of framing encapsulates much of her vision for this show I think. The taxi scene in the first half is where she first begins to break out of the naturalistic staging we had before. We see into the front window of the taxi. The symmetry and the colour are like Wes Anderson



Anne’s appearance in Act Two: her red dress, pale skin, and red cropped hair make for a striking contrast with the green wash Lyndsey overlays. She looks like Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.


So the aesthetics are referential of films we know and love (or love to hate). The colour scheme jars and blends as a kind of palatable juxtaposition.  Once I move past that, there’s Anne. A-n-n-e. She travels throughout Crimp’s works, reappearing most significantly in Attempts on Her Life. The character of Anne already feels like a reference in herself – she is already written, already assumed in other plays. I think every story that is told in The Treatment is significant: the three stages of corruption, the story of the artists, the story of the protesting, but I’m not sure. I certainly wasn’t sure when I was watching it and I’m even less sure now.

Then there’s New York – a city so famous and full of cliche it feels overdone before the play has even begun. A city that gives you a headache, always. I have a headache after the show. It seeps into you. New York is shown in the orange and the bins and the block colours. It all seems too obvious. What Crimp and Turner collaborate to do so well in this piece is acknowledge that referencing and then blow it apart.

Crimp writes one hundred different versions of the same story in one script. His writing is all about subjectivity and conflicting narratives and multiple perspectives and how all of that can give a million different angles on the same small situation. The Treatment feels like the epitome of that. It centres on telling Anne’s story, which then becomes Simon’s story, and then Andrew and Jennifer’s, and then Clifford’s, and then John’s, and finally Nicky’s as she becomes Anne. The whole show is just a fuckery of storytelling and lying and objectivity and perspectives (both in the set and in the writing). Not only does Anne’s story get mistold, but we are never sure which story is the real one, and so how do we know it’s ever mistold?

Then, we come back to the references. Another element of storytelling and of literature and art itself. Turner echoes Crimp’s referencing in her set, as I already said. Then you’ve got the textual references. The one that stands out most to me is the blinding (**doyagetit**) obvious, fucking in your face King Lear reference. Clifford has his eyes poked out with a fork – an act of revenge in a moment of Shakespearian drama. He wails on his knees, calling out into the dark. It’s almost too obvious. Then we get to the second act and there’s repetitions and suddenly we are in a subway station and Simon is repeating Anne back to her, referencing her words for his own use.  Referencing is about the stories, and it’s about being conscious of the process of telling and twisting stories, which of course is what The Treatment is really all about.

But then it’s a question of who owns the story. Shakespeare? Crimp? Anne? Turner?

The box at the end felt more real than any of the other settings, and yet it was in this place that the stories were most confused. The narratives still crossed and contorted, even in the face of the reality of the situation. In this final moment of realism, the audience are given a cathartic release – finally we see the story we have heard about for the whole show. And yet, it doesn’t sit right, at least not for me anyway. Does this mean the story was true all along? Or is the story only true now because of how it has been told before?

And then the last scene – the most abstract of all of them – is a moment of sheer nothingness. It feels metaphorical but I can’t quite scrape through all the subjective lenses the audience are faced with to find it. It’s literally the blind leading the blind at the end.


strangeness and love

nuclear war

When I walk in I decide to watch the show in the chair that looks like the one in my grandmother’s first house, in the corner of the dining room. I think the show will be dystopian, political, divisive. I cross my legs. I uncross my legs. People are watching me as they walk in, I’m watching them. We watch each other in the performance, too. The show wasn’t what I thought, in fact was an acute examination of grief and loneliness in a world of isolation and love.

burn a coffee on a stranger. have sex. speak to someone on the tube, don’t speak to someone on the tube, have sex. orgasm, don’t orgasm. switch on the light. drink milk. hide. grieve. miss. fold the duvet cover. don’t speak to someone on the tube. leave the underground. sun. sun. bright. tangerine. tangerine tights. mess. bricks. teacup, teacup, break.

The world of the play is big. By this I think I mean the physical space in which we all sit feels wide, high, bloated. There are huge gaping pieces of empty floor and wall. Only two rows of chairs line the very edges of the space. Mismatched and in keeping with the lamp and dressing table, the chairs are bolted to the floor. The performers watch us. We can’t really see them but we can see enough of them to know that they are watching us.

At the start of the show Maureen Beattie downs milk in a glass. She downs a further glass of water. Simon Stephens watches on. I can’t tell what he’s thinking and later we learn he hated it until today. I loved it, the downing of the water, it was the first moment I realised I loved the show.

The world is dance the world is noise is the size of the room is the colour of the lights.

Colour. I remember colour. The stage is red and everything is red. Beattie points out the yellow. Suddenly I see everything on the stage that’s yellow. Back of headphones and cigarette butt and lamp.

We follow a woman on a day. It’s a day any day, it’s seven years after a death. I want this to have happened over 45 minutes. Maybe she hasn’t even left her house and when she comes home at the end she’s really just leaving her room and we’re on a loop.

Maybe not.

There’s a lamp light in the middle of the room. It’s a carpeted room. I love the huge fuck off speakers dragged along the cream carpet. A long wire connecting to the lamp reaches from the middle of the space into a far corner. I’m scared the dancers will trip but they definitely don’t trip because Imogen is good she’s really fucking good. The movement contained, formed, outlined the words. (Radical for the Court? Maybe. Maybe a new iteration of exacting psychological human thought). Black coats, no shoes. Body morphs, writhes, eats. We’re confronted with destruction, orgasm, chaos.

Another thing I loved was the tights over the heads. You don’t see it at first. That’s the best kind of visual image because it makes you work for it. The performers stuff an orange in their mouths (is there a mouth hole in the tights??). They gorge on orange zest citrus. Correction, tangerine in mouth. That’s important.

Later there are ripped up pieces of orange on the floor. Mess and crumble and peel. What is left after grief? Perhaps it is the cathartic exhaustion after crying in public. Heaving cries, not just little tears. The mess, and the orange tangerine peel.

It’s near the end and now the world is a heptagon of bricks. A plant thrown down in the centre of the small smaller tiny world. The world is her arms the world is dark.

What nuclear war was, or what it seemed to me to be, was a cacophony of visceral feeling and experience. Sounds pretentious, probably is. Every part of the movement and words deeply cuts us, forcing its way into our peripheries and stretching our necks to far corners of the space. The four dancers cover their face with tights and we also feel the suffocation. Physically and emotionally. Suppressed by a grief that is at once all-encompassing and elusive.

I have mixed feelings which I don’t think comes across here. Maybe I’ll write another review in a month, or a year.

Also as I publish this Simon Stephens sits 10 meters away in the Royal Court bar.

Later, I speak to him and I’m so nervous I snap my metal ring in half. He tells me to keep writing and I get very emotional and it’s one of those things I know I’ll remember.