‘Just walk round the room. Any direction – no, not in a circle.. Just … don’t bump into anyone’
That’s how we began every rehearsal for our improvised drama ‘The Lie of the Land’, which played to a pretty full house in the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough last Monday. Those first minutes of every session provided time to focus and to learn how to use available space.
We brought in stories about Brexit that mattered to us. An ex-Science teacher deplored the ‘brain drain’ and the fact that foreign nationals no longer want to come here to pursue their careers. A mixed race woman observed the casual and less-than-casual racism that the Referendum seems to have legitimised. A deaf member of the group worried about the possibility of arts funding dedicated to people with disabilities being withdrawn. Someone gave vent to his anger on behalf of his children that the British Government has turned its back on the Erasmus programme. A management consultant spoke about his worries that England, perhaps less accessible because of visa restrictions, and no longer part of Team Europe, will become increasingly isolated. I, having spoken about no-longer-welcome long time residents known to me, talked about a much loved Ripon restaurant that has recently closed because it can no longer easily access the European staff on whom it has come to depend. British workers aren’t interested…. And so on.
We worked with these stories in turn, Chucking ideas into the pot, junking some, adapting others, polishing them into short tableaux and vignettes. Mine for instance, had two of us being shown into a restaurant, with staff busy serving relaxed diners. As I told my tale, the staff gradually disappeared, until, as I finished speaking, all the diners found themselves alone in unstaffed premises….
As the Management Consultant finished speaking, a group of us, friendly, cheerful, wrapped in our EU flag, welcomed trading partners sporting the flags of nations from around the globe. The lonely bearer of the Union Flag found herself increasingly ignored, until finally, Mr. America tossed her a raddled and threadbare looking soft-toy chicken.
When the Science teacher spoke, his discourse was regularly interrupted between paragraphs by speaking members of various tableaux. ‘Three years to finish your research? Ah… that could present a problem’. ’I’m vairy sorry, I don’t want to accept ze job. I don’t want to come to ze UK any more’. And finally ‘ Yup. I’ve decided to take that job in Sweden’.
And so we continued till each of our stories had been told.
We’d begun the play though as proud members of the British Empire, sovereignty intact. We came on stage, upright and military, singing a rousing sea shanty ‘A Drop of Nelson’s Blood’, completely overlooking the fact that as we advanced, we were trampling over the body of a slave.
We threw ourselves to the floor to allow the showing of a short stop-motion animation in which Playmobil figures told the early history of the EU, Britain’s membership and the Referendum, after which there was a full-ensemble mime sequence suggesting our individual feelings of loss.
So it went on, with our individual stories interspersed with comic mini-moments when Mr. or Ms. Sensible would try and prevent an ardent Brexiter leaping from a cliff in quest of the Unicorn.
Our finale had our splendid and multi-talented musician Tim declaiming from a megaphone those fake news stories about the EU of which the likes of the Daily Mail is so fond (‘EU bans barmaids from showing cleavage’, ‘EU will force .uk website addresses to become .eu’ etc) , all of which we greeted lustily with ‘No! Really? Bastards!’ before a final vocal surge in which a susurrating murmuring wind was gradually replaced by whisperings which culminated in a vociferous shout for a People’s Vote.
After the interval, some of the troupe took on roles as Shadow Minister for Trade, the very recently appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, a German industrialist, a wealthy Brexit backer and so on, for a Question Time in which members of the audience were encouraged to ask genuine questions. It went surprisingly well and authentically.
For those of us who’d not done any drama since we left school, this has been a moving, stimulating and thought-provoking experience. Cathartic too. Perhaps we should have invited Theresa May.
I hope there will be photos later, when we’ve scavenged them from those who were charged with taking some. We were too busy to take any…..