Birmingham and touring
My Country; a work in progress (Credits below)
4 Star ****
Birmingham Repertory Theatre to 20th May
Tour until July (See below)
Runs: 1h 30m, no interval
Tickets: Birmingham Repertory Theatre: 0121 236 4455
Tour Dates and Ticketing Info: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/my-country
Review: Samuel James Crawford 16th May 2017, Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Open your ears
Thursday 23rd June 2016 will always be a significant date for historians studying the United Kingdom in the twenty-first century. It is, after all, the moment where we were asked to decide whether or not we wished the United Kingdom to continue to remain in the European Union. More than 30 million people turned out to vote, and the final result was narrow with 51.9% of people opting to leave. In My Country; a work in progress the National Theatre seeks to explore the different opinions that led to a vote which produced such a narrow outcome.
The show centres on Britannia calling a meeting to listen to her people with Caledonia, Cymru, East Midlands, North East, Northern Island and the South West all embodied by different actors. The exchanges that take place stem from a range of conversations between a team of researchers working for the National and people aged from 9 to 97. These selected individuals were asked about their views on the European Union, the way they voted in the EU Referendum and how they viewed contemporary British society. In the play these accounts are interspersed with thought-provoking poetry from Carol Ann Duffy that centres on what it means to identify as ‘British’, and that seeks to question how nationalism and feelings of patriotism have coloured modern political discourse.
Weary theatregoers should not worry about a sudden denouement that seeks to question or chastise the way they voted. In fact, the play’s strength is its reluctance to take a side on the issue of Brexit, with characters continually urged to listen to one another and to respect opposing points of view. At a time when many of us are interacting with likeminded followers via Facebook or Twitter it is encouraging to see a play that reminds us to seek the opinions of others without immediately attempting to undermine them.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that this is simply an attempt to air different opinions about Britain and the EU. The play’s dispassionate approach acts as its own form of analysis with the absurdity of some of the arguments made by politicians on both sides clear for all to see. There are some wonderful caricatures of a range of well-known figures, but my favourite was a brief recount of Boris Johnson’s comparison between the EU and a box of cornflakes. In short, this is a piece of political theatre presented in an entertaining and engaging way, and at the play’s conclusion it struck me that on both sides of the debate there were, and still are, points worth listening to; I think that this alone makes My Country; a work in progress worth seeing.
Writer: Carol Ann Duffy
Director: Rufus Norris
Designer: Katrina Lindsay
Lighting Designer: Paul Knott
Music: David Shrubsole
Sound Designer: Alex Caplen
Company Voice Work: Jeannette Nelson