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)

 

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Thoughts after Love

On Saturday I saw Love at Birmingham Rep, a transfer from the National Theatre in London. I loved it and I wanted to write about it but it’s been hard to articulate exactly how it moved us all so profoundly. So I’ve collated my thoughts about the show which will never do it justice. In no way is this a review of the show. I didn’t feel like it was right to review it. It warranted an emotional response not an analytical discussion.

Human compassion is delicate and intangible. It gives strength and it complicates us more than we can comprehend.

It can’t save us. It can push us through but it often cannot penetrate to the institutions which have the power to incite change.

Empathy feels like the most powerful and futile of our facets.

Children are light in times of darkness.

Acceptance is difficult. Tolerance is difficult. Sharing, in every sense, is a hard and conflicting necessity.

Theatre is a presentation, a call to action, a story, a representation, a necessity.

We are sat in the lives of the characters. We are sat on the stage. We are sat in the society that crushes them.

We are so close to them and yet we can never be with them.

Voyeuristic?

Important.

Being the first person to hold out your hand and help is the simplest and most true show of love.

We are responsible and helpless.

Familiarity is love. Comfort is love. Sacrifice is love.

If one thing endures it has been and always will be love.

I cried at the end. After the bows. It was a release. It was cathartic.

I feel guilty that I could let it go the next morning.

Six Perpetual Ladies and a Two Man Show

This week contained two shows in three days: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and RashDash: Two Man Show. Both challenged their audiences, examining the female experience through music, dance, and passion. Our Ladies was a fiercely poignant show about choir girls celebrating sexuality; a long frowned upon taboo. Dealing with fragility, love, sex, heartbreak, and dodgy pick-up lines Featherstone Wright created characters who were unapologetically real. Each girl is a package of flaws, humour, and one hell of a voice.

Two Man Show wasn’t as ‘real’, mostly because it was so surreal and detached from any kind of traditional structure of a play or story. The two leading ladies transformed seamlessly from feminist lecturers to nude dancers to closed-off men. The whole show seemed to be pointing out the façade of gender, using extravagant costumes contrasted with bare nudity and pitting the two actresses against their characters in the latter half of the show.

Two Man Show highlighted the inadequacies of words as a way to express identity. Our Ladies certainly was not so overt in their message but it seemed to be similar – these young women expressed themselves through music, dance, and their friendship with each other. The dialogue was powerful and witty but it formed no more than half of who the characters were. In both shows, there was a sense of reclamation, exemplified in the word ‘cunt’ as the ladies of both productions took it back from all the men who so freely and maliciously tossed it around before them.

Featherstone-Wright presents us with badass choir girls who want to have sex with boys. And girls. The actresses had a wonderful ability to pitch it at exactly the right tone. These female characters are, finally, multifaceted and highly flawed. Both overtly sexually confident, falling over each other to prove their worth, and brutally fractured. They are all suffering, or have suffered, but are darkly witty; harmonising and jumping on each other’s lines.

RashDash put on an extremely powerful show. The two incredibly dressed women at the beginning who seemed to be able to spout endless facts about women, patriarchy, and motherhood at the end became two fragile human beings, naked and honestly monologuing about who they are and what a woman should be. In between that, they transform into men losing their father and their way. Fragile masculinity is contrasted with a rampant and radical expression of female sexuality in a cabaret-style powerhouse of a show.

The finale of Our Ladies, preceded by a Forced Entertainment style intro, allows the audience a cathartic rest. ‘No Woman, No Cry’ chimes in perfect pitch and we reflect on the reality of it all the messy pain of radiotherapy, the anti-climax of the popped cherry, and the overriding strength of female friendship. Just as in Two Man Show, we are sent off with the resounding notes of a final song, highlighting the struggle to articulate the intricacies of gender.

Behind Every Beautiful Woman

Sunday night blues were creeping in last week, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive a text which led me to a last minute, unexpected trip to the National Theatre in London on Monday night with a beloved friend and her family as a treat for her birthday. I was told only that it was called ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ and it was chosen because the friend in question had recently travelled around India so her mother thought it was suitable. And suitable it was – it surpassed suitable, as anything at the National does; this was extraordinary.

Plastic bags, bottles, cardboard, and paper plummet onto the stage with an almighty crash. The performance has started and Asian songs with a heavy beat blare out over the speakers, startling the older members of our audience somewhat. Throughout the production projections of planes fly overhead and a fluid chorus rush back and forth across the stage. The delicacy of the actors juxtaposed the grandeur of the set well – although the sheer immensity of the stage often shadowed some of the smaller actors. I loved that the women in this play were at the forefront – playing villians, saints, and just being presented as real people who make mistakes. The story revolved around women and girls, and better still, women of colour – now that is a truly refreshing thing to see in theatre.

Atmosphere, feminism and vibrancy – the National Theatre created a piece with such flavour and tactile emotion that every member of the vast audience was enthralled from start to finish.