My Country; a work in progress

Carol Ann Duffy & Rufus Norris

National Theatre

HOME, Manchester

From 18 April 2017 to 22 April 2017

Review by David Upton

Just how much of a ‘work in progress’ is emphasised when this simple but strident play opens here on the day that a General Election is called...

My Country is the National Theatre’s response to last year’s Referendum result, using drama to reflect the nation’s many opinions. In the wake of the Brexit vote, a team of interviewers spoke to people around the country and their soundbites are woven into a theatrical tapestry that reveals us for the nation we are—disaffected, amusing, angry, irritating, enlightened, bigoted, the list goes on.

You might think it would be as engrossing as a Best of Question Time compilation, but Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and artistic director Rufus Norris give it the standard National Theatre hallmark of quality and deliver 75 minutes of committed political theatre, using a minimum of stage design, lighting or sound, but a maximum amount of talented casting.

Britannia (Penny Layden) calls a meeting in a voting hall attended by Caledonia (Stuart McQuarrie), Cymru (Christian Patterson), East Midlands (Seema Bowri), North East (Laura Elphinstone), Northern Ireland (Cavan Clarke) and South West (Adam Ewan). Their locations reflect those of the arts organisations that collaborated on the project.

While Layden becomes the familiar voices of political leaders—reminding us of the sterile debate they served up, the lack of genuine oratory, and Boris’s windmilling arm movements—the rest of the cast adopt the characters of the interviewees, ranging in age from 9 to 87.

Theirs are the diverse voices that have become disconnected, often from one another, in a debate where there was a lot of talking and not a lot of listening. The sense of frustration is palpable and alarming, prompting Britannia’s final plea “for good leadership” to be delivered direct to the audience.

So it’s over to us again?