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)

 

Emerge Festival – Day One

Eurohouse and Lucy, Lucy, and Lucy Barfeild

Emerge Festival is at Warwick Arts Centre for three days this term, curated by Warwick Graduate company Barrel Organ and for the next couple of days I’ll be blogging and sharing my probably inadequate and disjointed thoughts on the festival and the shows that are on. There are still tickets for the other shows so I would definitely recommend coming to the next two days.

The theatre is a safe space. Especially for theatre students. Going back to theatre’s you know and love is a comfort in itself. Maybe that’s why so many Warwick companies are coming back for this three day festival. To feel a sense of community, of safety. Eurohouse began by creating a very safe sphere of togetherness and connection. The audience locked hands, became physically connected, and created a small community in itself. Bert and Nasi smiled out at us. It felt warm and happy. There was dancing.

Gradually though, that safety was broken down. It was simple but they were able to systematically destroy the safety of those first few moments. The dancing paralleled the political zeitgeists which continue to occur in this global crisis that our world seems to constantly be in. Not to be cheesy but history does repeat itself. We are lulled into this false sense of security by the people in power. They pretend everything’s fine and dance around to Comme d’habitude with a charming French accent and slowly eat away at what makes us most secure, most human. As someone said afterwards, ‘It made me want to throw up, but in a good way’. So this shift in tone basically subverted the whole notion of a safety net that holds us in this cocoon of privileged apathy. Two guys made me question my own sense of national identity, and who I believe anymore. Greece was portrayed to us as a country that seriously messed up, but really it was a manipulative French guy forcing us to retch up our M&Ms.

So I questioned my national identity. And I questioned my actual identity as well. And how much my name actually means. That was because of Lucy, Lucy, and Lucy Barfield. A young girl fascinated with the dream world of Narnia (in a way an imagined safe space, one that doesn’t and never did really exist) searches for the ‘real’ Lucy, the one C.S. Lewis dedicated his books to. And everything is thrown into question. Whereas Eurohouse was a focus on facts and presenting those facts via metaphor, Lucy was about a truth that was subjective. How can we ever truly know what happened to someone who is basically untraceable? What is her truth, and is it singular? And in a subtle link to Eurohouse – how is our individualism taken away from us in the wake of political crisis?