Writer: Carol Ann Duffy
Director: Rufus Norris
Reviewer: R. G. Balgray
Once the brouhaha about Brexit dies down – if it ever does – it is to be hoped that a special place can be found for My Country: A Work in Progress from the National Theatre Company, currently beginning its national tour at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. For this voxpop/improv/collaboration manages to reach the parts which others only claim to. Amid all the political panjandrummery, hypocrisy, social media panics and fake news we face, here an appreciative audience managed to hear voices: the voices of ordinary people.
Its approach is a simple one. Editing and arranging the fruits of a listening project undertaken around the country after the June 23rd democratic experience. Allowing individuals from different areas time and space to explain their votes, their thoughts, their feelings, and transcribing then presenting them in the mouths of a small acting company. And its central dramatic conceit is also a straightforward one: representatives of different parts (accents, stereotypes and all) report back to Britannia – initially a suited and booted middle manager played briskly by Penny Layden. She it is who arranges the stripped down stage set, only desks, seats and ballot boxes. So far, so downbeat. So “undramatic”. But as the words from real people start to take over – prosaic, inconsistent, perceptive, misguided – an unusual and distinctive stage experience begins to emerge. First, within the “reporting back” context, simple rituals like speaking in turn, and listening to each other. Then, despite the lack of conversation, or of discourse between the views expressed, what Carol Anne Duffy has called the “human music” surfaces, of the voice of the ordinary man or woman. And this contrasts hugely with the obfuscatory twaddle of our political masters, peddled expertly as part of Britannia’s role.
Excruciating as it is to remember key soundbites from the campaign, this highlights one of the key strengths of the production: there is so much laughter to it. Within the Scottish context some of this might be rather uncomfortable, for it is impossible not to recognise some of our own familiar dark sides: the joy of obstructiveness, the willingness to laugh at others but not ourselves. However, given the miseries of post-Brexit media presentations on TV, radio, and in print, this might be an acceptable price to pay. In its final stages, the production achieves some kind of synthesis – between the disparateness of the regions yet also a sense of the richness and depth of a national identity, expressed plangently by Britannia. Perhaps to remind us that what divides us also unites us.
Runs until 1 April 2017 | Image: Alastair Muir