Artistic director of the National Theatre Rufus Norris has crafted an analysis of the implications for all of us living in Brexit Britain, alongside Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and some ‘ordinary voices’ collected from ten corners of our ever fractious ‘ United’ Kingdom. It is an ambitious task indeed, and not one which has been undertaken lightly.
A fantastic cast of seven- Seema Bowri; Cavan Clarke, Laura Elphinstone, Adam Ewan, Stewart McQuarrie and Christian Patterson, with a formidable Penny Layden front and centre as a battered Britannia, fuse Duffy’s proud yet undeterred poetry and weave one voice with many sentiments. Each represent a part of the UK, from different backgrounds.
Verbatim theatre is only as good as its voices, though, and despite a crisp, humorous dissection of the idiocy of political rhetoric (Layden’s Boris is a joy to behold- uncannily emulating his flapping, bizarre aphorisms about lobsters and saying ‘knickers’ to remainers) it sometimes falls a little flat. For every articulate disgruntled citizen,like the Edinburgh resident bemoaning the state-funded Fettes schoolchildren dominating prime positions in the workforce, there is a trite observation which adds little or nothing to the debates around multi-culturalism and the common market, and the usual Daily Mail anti-immigration drivel.
Worse still, stereotypes pervade across the production- the Welshman has a wonderful singing voice; the whisky-swilling Scot is easy to anger, the Geordie exists on a diet of chips. A dance-off undermines any serious points about the campaigners from either side and the climate of media-perpetuated fear. Meritocracy is only briefly explored, and the voices of remainers few and far-between.
The voices become an incoherent babble, more Mad Hatter’s Tea Party than debating chamber, and the effect is somewhat akin to watching endless You Tube videos of dissenting voices, or the scene in which Bowie’s Thomas Newton watches a bank of television sets at once in The Man Who Fell to Earth. So much sound, saying so little. ‘Empty vessels’, as the Bard had it.
Yet, it is hard to dislike. Older people who voted for Brexit did not necessarily do so through racist views, the piece suggests, but rather from a love of the familiar. The old ways of life are like a favourite food to the second world war generation- some simplicity has been lost, it seems, in our media-savvy times, where we are never far from the constant thrum of technology.
And if this can provoke debate for the younger generation- often dismissed as ‘snowflakes’ or ‘millenials’, with little to say, so much the better. Norris and Duffy’s production may be flawed, but at least it provides a platform for those who are still under- represented on the stage.’Plus ca change’, as our French cousins have it.
At the Citizens Theatre until April 1st, 2017