Last Exit Before Brexit

Bernard-Henri Lévy
The Hexagon Society with the support of La Regle du Jeu
Cadogan Hall

It was certainly a very smart looking white audience at the sold-out, 950-seat Cadogan Hall performance of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s play Last Exit Before Brexit.

There were so many suits and ties I wondered if I was going to be chucked out for failing a dress code. They would make your typical West End audience look like slum dwellers.

The play’s only character named Bernard-Henri Lévy, performed by Levy himself, is busy in a Sarajevo hotel room preparing a speech about Europe for a British audience.

He regards Brexit as the triumph of ignorance and pettiness, “a win for the hard right over the soft right. For the radical left over the liberal left.”

In the process, such greats as Lawrence of Arabia, James Bond and Paul McCartney “are being shrunk.”

Britain, he argues, is making, “a pathetic retreat to a castle of sand.”

His monologue is meant to be an urgent appeal to stop Brexit before it destroys Britain and Europe.

But, rather than deal with how that might happen or attempt a strong case for remain, he mixes what seem like random personal recollections, such as his chat with Kissinger about Plato in a public toilet, with a polemical rampage across Europe.

The line that gets the most positive response from the audience is the proposal to “throw Corbyn in the trash.”

Key moments of European failure in 1914, in the Holocaust and in the massacres in Srebrenica give an edge to his warnings of the burning necessity for Europe to change.

He is a liberal interventionist who speaks proudly of running guns into Bosnia during the Yugoslavia conflict, of “the brotherhood in arms” (does he know there are women in the military now?) of the “French and English” (what happened to the rest of Britain?) sending the military into Mali and in trying to set up the European Intervention Initiative which, he says, “will frankly be a Franco-British Army.”

Salman Rushdie phones in to mysteriously announce, with a twinkle in his eye, that, “it was five minutes to midnight in Europe.”

And there were the distracting thoughts of women.

No sooner is he recalling the events around the collapse of Yugoslavia than he remembers witnessing the death of Pamela Harriman, the United States Ambassador to France.

He had been swimming in a pool at the Paris Ritz where she was the only other swimmer. “I was adjusting my speed so I could ogle her under the water... my God how beautiful she was.”

Moments later, she had a seizure and died “not in my arms.”

Her death becoming an anecdote in which she is sexually objectified. But then the man on stage does slip into a less than emancipatory depiction of women.

He shows us film of women stripping naked erotically and refers to Thatcher as “an old governess” with “the air of a widow.”

His gesture to women’s rights is a film of marching women Kurdish fighters that he proposes showing on a loop to Weinstein. He also suggests in an imaginary vision of a better Europe putting Christopher Hitchens in charge of secularisation “with orders to settle once and for all this burka nonsense.”

He clearly hasn’t been swayed by the argument of allowing women to choose what they wear. That might get in the way of him ogling them in their death agony.

Drinking enough whiskey to put him in a coma, he chucks books about the floor and various items he is frustrated with into a bath of water until, taking off a very expensive pair of shoes, he puts himself fully clothed into the bath.

Even those not already baffled by the things he had said looked confused. Was this a dramatic way of sobering up for his exit? Was he the last exit before Brexit?

Bernard-Henri Lévy says he would like to show this play to those who voted Brexit and, who knows, with its promise of more foreign wars and men chasing women who wear burkas it might be the Brexiteers secret weapon.

But I somehow don’t think it is going to win the hearts and minds of those who voted to leave an EU they considered had nothing useful to say about their ravaged communities and blocked lives.

Keith Mckenna