Writer and Director: Ian Dixon Potter
Ian Dixon Potter continues his exploration of the “Little Englander” mentality in the second of the new monologue series Tales from the Golden Age by Golden Age Theatre. Streaming via YouTube, this 40-minute story is more overtly political than the first, imaging life in a not-to-distance post-Brexit future where European citizens have been expelled but residents are still waiting for their new Eden to start.
Dorothy has recently had a stroke and is confined to a wheelchair when new carer Heidi is employed to manage her needs while son Ralph is at work. Only Heidi is an illegal worker, fired from the Mountview Care Home when new employment regulations prevented them from retaining European-born staff, and works for Dorothy cash-in-hand until some nosey neighbours take matters into their own hands.
Enjoyably written by Ian Dixon Potter, The New Normal is hardly subtle, drawing on the engrained prejudices and misunderstandings that led to the Leave vote in 2016 and the failure to distinguish between “foreigners” as an indistinct category and knowing particular individuals as friends or colleagues. That Dorothy can spout nationalistic views and want to welcome Heidi into her family is precisely the contradiction that Dixon Potter finds so ludicrous as he imagines a sour future for the once United Kingdom.
Initially, it is impossible to tell what era Dorothy is speaking from; the comfortable home and expression of views could suggest any time in the last 40-years and it is only later in the story that the audience begins to understand that a political and economic shift has taken place outside. This is reinforced by news headlines read by Robin Lustig that frame most scenes, offering additional context including a suggestion that Boris Johnson is now a fumbling Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond has crossed the floor and Nigel Farage is foreign secretary.
Fundamentally, this is a scenario of grave decline, which across the six scenes intensifies as trade deals flounder, the real consequences of leaving the European Union play out and a clampdown begins. That this plays out over and around a domestic drama is interesting if not as fully integrated as perhaps it could be.
The family home angle is a useful if unsurprising one, and while the very ordinariness of Dorothy’s life is increasingly called into question over the months in which the story takes place, the viewer never sees her contradictory views properly challenged or evolve. Distracted by the fun of imagining a world ahead and making clearly heartfelt statements about the looming post-Brexit disaster, The New Normal doesn’t take its central character on a journey of self-realisation despite its eventual outcome.
Performed by Kate Carthy, Dorothy is almost as unpleasant at the end of the story as she is at the start, her views and pejorative language barely adjusts to the experience of knowing Heidi better. Carthy is very good at capturing a particular kind of middle England certainty formed of blanket opinions and a stubborn unwillingness to recast her view of the world, but Carthy introduces some tones of humanity as the betrayals of neighbours and authoritarian process starts to grate.
The build-up to and fall out of the Brexit vote has brought all kinds of societal tones to light, but, in what will be a considerable series of monologues, Dixon Potter is off to a strong and thematically consistent start. With a further five stories listed as ‘Coming Soon’ on the Golden Age Theatre website, it is certainly worth seeing where this series goes next.