In the words of the Great British public and Glaswegian former poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, My Country: A Work in Progress contends with the question that has been at the back of our minds in the wake of Brexit – whether the disagreement between the Brexiteers and Remainers is fleeting, or if it points to a wider rift in our society. Performed at the majestic Citizens Theatre on the eve of the triggering of Article 50, the play was risk-taking and ambitious.
The drama took just seven thespians, each of whom acted as mouthpieces for the diverse verbatim opinions of ordinary people, and asked them to portray several real British citizens as well as the regions of our nation, led by Britannia voicing the opinions of Westminster. Attention was given equally to the thoughts of the young, old, longtime citizens and immigrants, however one simple but profound message prevailed: that we must always listen to each other, as people’s beliefs are formed by their experiences. The minimal set design and simple costumes complemented the essence of the production, allowing the audience to focus on the language used by the actors.
Directed by Everyman’s Rufus Norris, continuing his streak of producing thought-provoking dramatisations of moral issues faced by everyday people, and married with Duffy’s wonderful ability to create uplifting narratives from ordinary situations, the play is an entertaining snapshot of our times. Throughout, the duo ensured that Britannia’s voice shouted the loudest: played by Penny Layden, a noted Shakespearean actress, who managed to hold the audience in the palm of her hand. Delivering an impactful and emotional monologue, she demonstrated, like a true leader, the love she feels for her countrymen and women. This is where the main strength of the play lies, as it inspires us to look out for our fellow citizens, which is patriotism in its purest form. In delivering this message of unity and cooperation, Britannia came across as the most noble character. In reality, some of the negative rhetoric in the campaigns originated from those in Westminster. I appreciate and admire Norris’ vision of providing a play that voices the opinions of ordinary people, however the lack of a strong spotlight on the negativity of certain political campaigns left characters such as the North East looking like the “bad guys”, perhaps oversimplifying the causes of Brexit.
My Country is an entertaining comedy as well as being a digestible reminder of all the events that have occurred since June 24th, 2016. Norris’ decision to base his latest work on Brexit was brave as it did well to capture the Zeitgeist and may be viewed in years to come as a relic of our uncertain era. For now, the final act of the real-life drama soon unfolds…