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Britannia is worried. Things are changing and she wants to know what her people are thinking. So she calls a meeting. Caledonia, Cymru, the North East, the East Midlands and the South West dutifully turn up and voice their opinion. But it’s not polite, in fact it’s quite heated; insults are stinging and stereotypes are keenly outlined with invective. There’s no doubt, their opinions are savagely divided and Britannia doubts that her kingdom can ever be united again.
This conference of the regions is the premise for the 5 star reviewed My Country: Work in Progress which is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from 12th – 17th June. If it sounds astoundingly close to the current situation post Brexit, then that’s no coincidence as the body of the script is drawn from people’s actual opinions about the referendum and its implications. In the days following the UK’s momentous decision to leave the EU a team of researchers from the National Theatre undertook interviews with people from all parts of the country and asked them what were their thoughts, hopes and fears. The interviewees were aged 9 – 97 and their testimonials form the threads from which Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and National Theatre Director, Rufus Norris, weave this sensitive, strange and moving tapestry.
It is the job of the Poet Laureate to record events of national importance in verse and Duffy’s side-step in offering up her duty-bound creation as a piece of theatre has been very well received generally. Yes, there have been a few off-stage heckles accusing My Country of being a Remoaner testament but that’s clearly not the case as it contains some moments which would cause the average Islington socialist’s asparagus to curl up with embarrassment – a Somali refugee in need receiving plush accommodation whilst a hard-working Midlander in a similar situation receives nowt, being a case in point.
Seven actors play Britannia and her regions and from their mouths spill the real words of British people which Duffy has stitched together with the speeches of politicians – you know, those who told us that if we voted out, either everything would turn to dust or that there’d be £350 million to spend on the NHS, yes, that’s right, the liars.
The arguments over Brexit are not yet resolved – particularly if you’re reading this before the general election – nor are they likely to be, possibly for a generation, but this critically acclaimed production has crystalised the views of the nation in the immediate aftermath of the referendum vote on June 23rd 2016. The heat has not yet receded from the conversation about Brexit and that will undoubtedly be to our detriment as rarely are good decisions made when denunciation and accusation are rolling off the tongue. Whether this production provides the thinking space required for a more cogent and effective reflection on the event which will shape the future, and future prosperity of this country, for one, or possibly even two, generations can only be answered by going to see it.
Ticket prices for its run at the Cambridge Arts Theatre range from £18 – £33 and, as I write, there’s availability for all performances. Now it’s true, Cambridge is rather at one extreme of the region and it may be that, if you fancy seeing My Country but feel that Cambridge is too much of a schlep for you, a train trip to Stratford (that’s London, not on-Avon) may interest you more. My Country ends its run at the glorious Theatre Royal in Stratford East, which is, I can personally vouch, in easy reach of both Stratford mainline station and several decent drinking establishments – including the Theatre itself. Tickets there start at £8 for adults aged over 26 and £6 for those under.
It may be that, what with the election, you’ve had enough politicking for a while, and that’s certainly your right. What I’ve had enough of is politicians telling us what we think. My Country may be the best chance to hear what actual people think – I don’t expect politicians would like that to catch on.