Arts Review: My Country – A Work In Progress


Dir. Rufus Norris, The Citizens, 28th March – 1st April

With the houselights still on, a woman in a formal attire starts setting up the stage. The ballot boxes at the back serving as a memory of the Brexit referendum, and for Scots perhaps as a precursor for the second independence referendum. “You’ve all turned up”, the lady says to the audience. “I’m grateful.” Tonight we are listeners, and witnesses to a meeting of the UK, with Northern Ireland, Mid-West of England, Caledonia and all the other parts summoned by Britney – short for Britannia. They have come together during every crucial moment in history, and so they do now.

In the days following the Brexit vote in the summer of 2016, a team from the National Theatre of Great Britain spoke to people all around the UK about their life, politics and the referendum. Their diverse views, thoughts and worries are presented on stage in My Country; A Work in Progress. Some of them make me angry. Some are funny, some are hurtful and others speak my mind exactly. There is no doubt, however, that they are all worthy of being spoken. One of the many themes running through this play is the importance of listening – really listening – and what a difference it makes (or perhaps would have made) if people feel like they are being heard.

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The skill of the actors is incredible. With just a change in tone, way of speaking and language, I get transformed into the world of the person the actor is representing. At the end of the play, the words said by the actors transform into recordings of voices we have heard through the performance. The similarity between the recordings and what is said on stage, by the actors, is striking, and proves that everything is real. Nothing is mediated or changed for the show, but people from all over the UK have been brought to the stage in a honest and accurate way, using their exact words, accent and intonation.

In contrast to the language of ordinary people stands poetic language spoken by the character of Britannia, created by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It leaves me thinking that every expression, spoken in a particular accent and using specific words, both of which have been shaped in a certain environment over generations, is poetry. A stark opposition are the speeches of politicians made before, during or after the Brexit-vote, imitated by Britannia too. While it adds a tone of comedy, it also serves as a harsh reminder of the lies that both campaigns were based on.  

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My Country; A Work in Progress provides food for thought but does not give any answers, which is both a strength and a weakness. The play taking on no political stance means a non-judgemental environment, in which a diverse array of voices can be heard. Yet with the inclusion of an emotional and poetic piece about Jo Cox and an imitation of Farage’s speech that includes his statement that Brexit has happened “without a single bullet being fired”, it is a question whether it is moral to remain so neutral.  

[Aike Jansen]

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