Socialist Worker

My Country play brings ordinary voices to the political stage

The National Theatre’s play opens important debates about British society and its discontents—but at times it felt like a work in progress, writes Lois Browne

Issue No. 2545

‘Britannia’ calls a meeting of the regions of Britain

‘Britannia’ calls a meeting of the regions of Britain


With six ballot boxes set up on tables towards the back of the stage, My Country—a work in progress immediately transports you back to 23 June.

Following the Brexit vote that day, members of the National Theatre conducted a nationwide series of interviews.

All the participants, aged from nine to 97 years old, were asked how they felt about Britain.

Segments of these intimate thoughts and opinions are interwoven into the dialogue of the play, along with the words of poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Brexit vote was a revolt against the rich
Brexit vote was a revolt against the rich
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At the beginning of the play, the patriotic symbol of Britannia calls a meeting of the regions.

The actors characterise Caledonia (Scotland), East Midlands, North East, Westminster, Cymru (Wales), Northern Ireland and South West.

Meanwhile, pictures of the interviewees are held up as the debate goes from one region to another.

The quotes conjure up laughter, sometimes due to the sheer simplicity of what has been said or how outlandishly ridiculous a stereotype is.

Others bring about an uncomfortable silence among the audience because of their xenophobic and racist undertones.

The first contribution from Caledonia immediately opens up the conversation about ruling class power structures.

The interviewee recalls his school days, when he realised that he led a less privileged life.

Immerse

Running at 90 minutes without an interval, the production allows you to fully immerse yourself in the live discussion.

This sometimes culminates in confrontations between the different regions about their contrasting perceptions.

My Country—a work in progress successfully opens up the floor for an array of subjects to be discussed and contemplated

It covers political topics from the European Union (EU), housing, terrorism, class struggle, the refugee crisis in Syria and immigration. It also raises social issues surrounding “Britishness”, multiculturalism, othering and Islamophobia.

The play also questions whether it is right for decisions of the whole country to be made by politicians in Westminster when they’re so detached from ordinary people.

However, there is a segment of singing and dancing that feels purposely inserted to detract from the seriousness of the debate.

This slightly undermines the importance of these complex subjects being discussed so openly.

It leaves us with the message that “we are far more united, than what divides us”.

But it also showcases the increasing rise of populist racism, which seems to unfortunately becoming more engrained in our society.

My Country—a work in progress
Dorfman Theatre London SE1
Tickets from £15
Until 22 March, then touring across Britain until 1 July
nationaltheatre.org.uk

One Was Nude and One Wore Tails

One Was Nude and One Wore Tails by Dario Fo is a farce where a rich man has to look for clothes on his journey home.

Dario Fo - a committed revolutionary who stood against the state
Dario Fo - a committed revolutionary
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In doing so, he has to enlist the help of an impoverished road sweeper.

The production takes some swipes at the attitudes towards working class people and the myth of social mobility.

The richer characters collude in order to screw over the road sweeper protagonist. Having a police officer as the voice of social conscience in part contributes to the play’s failure to pack a real punch.

Its attempts at social satire are also hampered by its somewhat two-dimensional portrayal of ordinary people.

That said, the play benefits from strong performances that fill the space almost to the point of claustrophobia.

The biggest laughs come from the slapstick nature of a naked man stuck inside a bin, which carries large sections of the farce.

Sarah Bates

Hen & Chickens Theatre, London N1 2NA. Until 18th March

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