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Review: My Country: A Work in Progress, at National Dorfman

18 March, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Laura Elphinstone, Penny Layden and Seema Bowri in My Country. PHOTO: SARAH LEE

“A WORK in progress” – it’s part of the title. Devised by the National Theatre’s director Rufus Norris in response to the EU Referendum, this is an interim report of an on-going story.

A team was sent to the regions to collect what people thought about our country today. This 80-minute show is based on what they said, used verbatim, but spoken by actors in a format devised by Norris and poet Carol Ann Duffy.

School desks line the back of the stage, each with a ballot box on it. A woman starts arranging the room for a meeting. It’s not just an electoral officer, it’s Britannia (Penny Layden, soon wearing her red, white and blue plumed shiny helmet). She’s called in the regions to give reports in front of our audience of observers.

There’s Caledonia (he stalks out independently later), singing Cymru, South West, Northern Ireland, East Midlands (who is Asian) and North East. There’s no-one from London and the South East: these are those who claim not to be heard.

Photos of the original speakers are display as each opinion is reported in character. The balance seems weighted against the European Union. That’s deliberate, it precisely reflects the referendum ratio. Britannia herself the voices of Westminster politics deftly delivered in the tones of Cameron, Johnson, Farage, May and more.

There is plenty of lively and comic invention, like the food that each brings for their lunch break, the way that the guzzle Caledonia’s whisky, the regional dances with which they celebrate local culture and the outs of patriotic song and excellent performances from everyone.

The vox pop includes many sharp comments, it’s clear how our country is divided, but though it is entertaining it doesn’t really tell us anything new.

For the London chattering classes of the Remain camp, it’s a caustic reminder of how wrong they got things in what one quoted voice called “the biggest stitch-up since the Bayeux Tapestry”. Its message comes nine months too late.

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