BERNADETTE HYLAND takes issue with a play purporting to shed light on the national mood in the era of Brexit
MY COUNTRY is a chaotic reprise of words and emotions expressing the very heightened current debate about our relationship with the EU.
Expressing a nationalistic view of our relationship with Europe at the expense of any radical alternative which certainly exists, it offers no fresh insight. Described as “a work in progress,” this National Theatre production is inspired by last year’s referendum.
It’s devised from interviews conducted with people aged from nine to 87 in the four countries of the United Kingdom which Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and director Rufus Norris have interwoven with speeches from party leaders.
It opens with Britannia calling a meeting to listen to her people, drawn from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with England represented by individuals from the east Midlands, the south-west and the north-east. I couldn’t help but wonder why the north-west isn’t included.
The seven actors show photographs of the different people whose views they express verbatim but, as the play progresses, the photos disappear and we’re left with a cacophony of words and emotions in which it’s difficult to pick out who is speaking and to identify the context of their words.
Throughout the 75 minutes the contingents from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland tend to dominate, perhaps because we know those stereotypes and that, sadly, is what comes over.
The actor representing Northern Ireland struggles to convey the mixed bag of views gleaned from the Irish interviews and isn’t helped by a confusing mixture of stories without any historical context.
There’s a revelation from a young boy recognising that he is gay, while another interviewee talks about British soldiers raiding his house in Derry. And, he being Irish, there is of course a Michael Flatley dance.
Music is used to weave together the different identities and the English get Vaughan Williams and Showaddywaddy, perhaps reflecting the confusion of what it means to live in the country these days.
The absence in the interviews of anyone who is politically active is a major flaw — what dominates are the speeches of Cameron, Johnson, Farage and May and, if Jeremy Corbyn was in there, he passed me by. At the very end, we get to hear the real voices of the interviewees but, sadly, it’s too late to bring proceedings to life.