Writer and Director: Ian Dixon Potter
The monologue has become an abiding feature of lockdown with filmed-in-isolation versions of Shakespeare soliloquies and Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads while even radio drama The Archers has controversially utilised the format. Writer and Director Ian Dixon Potter has also taken this time to compose a new single-character story Tales from the Golden Age: Trivial Dispute released on the Golden Age Theatre YouTube Channel that uses the pandemic to explore the boiling political tensions of recent years.
Classic-car lover and fierce patriot Trevor manages a chain of tanning boutiques while enjoying his local celebrity in rural South London. A former mechanic-turned-millionaire, Tory-voting Trevor’s authority is challenged by the arrival of liberal left-leaning academic Ewan whose love of European cars and cosmopolitan culture sets the two men on a collision course as the consequences of Brexit play out across their small community.
Very little is known about the context of Trevor’s monologue, although it is clear from the start that all is not well. Filmed against a plain white background while the protagonist sits at a table with a tell-tale plastic cup from a water cooler, this feels like a professional interview of some kind but just what Trevor has done, witnessed or been accomplice to becomes the driver in Dixon Potter’s intriguing story.
And the viewer is given an overview of Trevor’s character within the first few minutes as he references his English nationalist feelings, dislike of “foreign” cars and people, and reveals his standing in various local groups, including a regional branch of the Conservative Party of which he is a proud member. This is not a character with whom the audience is asked to sympathise and while there is humanity within the 40-minute monologue, Dixon Potter draws out the everyday experience of this community and the ways in which small issues become quickly magnified into personal crusades.
Like Clint Dyer’s superb monologue The Death of England which ran at the National Theatre earlier this year, Trivial Dispute is a working class story about groups who feel left behind, where ideas of patriotism, nationalism, class and wealth contend, filtered through the day-to-day experiences of the people they affect the most. As frustrating as Trevor is – certainly to the metropolitan liberal elite he despises – he is never a caricature and always a product of his age, status, geography and experiences, while Dixon Potter doesn’t make the unseen Ewen any less appealing as a smug, equally petty and arrogant figure determined to cause upheaval in a place he barely understands.
As Trevor, actor Neil Summerville gives a compellingly off-kilter performance of a man whose reputation is as prized as his classic car collection. How he became a millionaire remains a mystery but Trevor is someone who has clearly worked hard for a great portion of his life. Summerville adds sour notes that suggest an unreasonable temper, a man stuck in his routines dressed-up as respect for traditional ways of living and who doesn’t like to be questioned or made to feel uneducated.
There could be a little additional vitriol in the more explosive sections and occasionally the terminology becomes a little too blunt so it is difficult to believe that Trevor would be so openly prejudiced to a virtual stranger or use blanket media terms like ‘immigrants’. The outcome of Trivial Dispute may not be a surprise, but the monologue neatly captures the voice of a generation of people who feel disenfranchised from the global pace and who are powerfully entrenched in their own worlds. We may not like what they have to say but as Dixon Potter creates a snowball effect within the drama it is clear how easily the individual and the state can lose control.