The Lie of the Land 2

I’m in a very odd pose as I’m semi-squatting so as not to hide those at the back from view. Malcolm’s behind me, and Phil, our director, is centre-front.

‘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 A deaf member of the group worried about the possibility of arts funding dedicated to people with disabilities being withdrawn.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…..

 

Ragtag Saturday: The Lie of the Land

I’ve got two daughters who have the acting gene: who’ve often performed and entertained on stage over the years.  Where did they get this gene from?  Not me.  I was a servant once in a school play, and spoke two whole lines.  That’s my Drama CV.

Yet apparently,  Malcolm and I will be part of a troupe appearing on stage for one night only at the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough, to perform an improvised drama about … well, what else?… Brexit.

It was Phil’s idea.  He’s a professional theatre director, and he’s one of our People’s Vote team.  He thought we needed something to entertain the campaigning troops all over North Yorkshire and  bring us and a wider public together for something a little different.  Adrian, also part of the team, offered practical and technical expertise.

And suddenly … there we were, rehearsing, about a dozen of us.  Most of us had never met each other before.  No script.  No lines.  No clear idea where this might go….  yet.  This was to be Improvised Theatre.  We played games.  ‘Think of one thing you like about being part of Europe.’ (Just one?) ‘Now make a statue of it.’  We’ve made more statues, taught our poses to others, worked with them to make vignettes.  We’ve played ball games, word games. We’ve told stories about our own experiences of Europe and  of the-Brexit-to-be, and with Phil, woven these into scenes and tableaux .  We’ve sung a sea shanty, improvised ‘Question Time’.  Phil and Adrian persuaded someone to confect a video. All this weekend, we’ll be working solidly to pull everything together.  Well, Phil will.  He’s got an eye for when there’s a nugget worth mining for, a gem worth polishing.From the latest North Yorkshire for Europe newsletter.

Today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt is ‘Play’.

Ragtag Tuesday: Any Questions?

I was brought up on Any Questions, a topical radio debate programme which has been a firm part of the BBC Radio 4 schedules on Friday evenings for getting on for 70 years.  Our family always listened when I was younger, but I don’t these days as it does terrible things to my blood pressure when right-wing Daily Mail readers take to the podium.

All the same.  It was coming to Masham, the town-next-door.  A loose cohort of us got free tickets.  That’s not quite true.  Malcolm and I didn’t, but meeting in the pub beforehand, we started to feel left out, and managed to snaffle two late-returns.

Getting ready for the action in Masham Town Hall.

You have to turn up easily an hour ahead of transmission. If you want to, you write a question which might get included. You have to be warmed up.  Radio Leeds presenter Andrew Edwards schooled us in the gentle art of clapping, cheering and booing to make our views clear to the listening audience (‘No heckling please’).  The lucky questioners were announced.  Two of our team made the cut, though in the end, only passionate 17-year-old ‘It’s our future’ Charlie had her question dealt with on air. I made the nearly-got-included list.

It was all fascinating stuff.  Star of the show was probably the CEO of Siemens UK, Jurgen Maier: measured, lively and likeable.  A Remainer, but desperate for business certainty, he’d back the current Brexit deal.  Leaver Jake Berry, Northern Powerhouse Minister, actually said  ‘I don’t think any of us knew what we were going to get when we voted Leave….’, but nevertheless isn’t in favour of a People’s Vote on the Final Deal which Lord Adonis is campaigning for.  There was Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister, Jenny Chapman  and the other MP was John Redwood (‘fervent Brexiteer’).  He really is from the Dark Side.  Uncivil, dogmatic, he didn’t attract much enthusiasm even from those who subscribe to his reactionary, long-held views in favour of Leave.

Charlie needed her selfie with Andrew Adonis.

If you want a flavour of the debate, you can listen here if you’re eligible to listen to BBC transmissions.

And the next day, we went back to Remoaning in Harrogate again…

A pavement poll on the People’s Vote.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘Broadcast’.

Freedom for Catalonia!

Driving away from Berga.

We stopped off in Berga on our way to Barcelona.  It’s a mediaeval city with a strong history of republicanism.  In May 2012 for instance, the town council declared King Juan Carlos to be ‘persona non grata‘.  Nobody’s likely though, to be keen on a king who goes elephant hunting in Africa as his country plunges ever deeper into recession.

Now its cause of choice is Catalan independence.  I’m not going into the arguments here. Though sauntering along various Ramblas on a September evening as friends and families pop into a bar for a drink, or to a restaurant for dinner, it’s hard to accept their definition of themselves as an oppressed people; or to take entirely seriously their view that they and, for instance, the Kurds, are all in it together.

Mooch up and down the narrow alleys of Berga with us and look at the posters, the slogans, the street art which are such a feature of this town.  A young man stopped me as I was snapping away.  ‘We don’t all think that way here’ he said.  But he admitted that he was in a minority .

Click on any image to see it full size.

Punch and Judy Politics

Recently, I promised a post about books that got rave reviews from everyone but me.  And in the end, I haven’t done it.  It turned out there weren’t so many after all.

So instead, I’m going to tell you about a book which I enjoyed, hugely, even though it’s about politics, which I don’t enjoy hugely (Does anybody, anywhere at the moment?).  This is a thoroughly out-of-character read for me.

It’s  Punch and Judy Politics, by Ayesha Hazarika and Tom Hamilton.  And it’s about Prime Ministers’ Question time, that peculiarly British institution when once a week on Wednesdays, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition face one another across a crowded chamber, filled with heckling, shouting, cheering and far-from-silent MPs.

I was drawn in from the first sentences.‘ You’re the Leader of the Opposition. it’s your job to choose one of the week’s top political news stories and write six questions to the Prime Minister about it. Not exam questions, not questions you might ask an expert, but awkward, hostile questions that will put the Prime Minister on the back foot ….’.

I was immediately interested. This book describes how PMQs play a defining role in British politics. This once-a-week contest between Prime Minister and Opposite Number forces each of the pair not only to prepare well, backed by a team of advisers, but to examine their own policies, and understand where and why they might be weak. Preparing to spar with their opponent, undermining them with clever questions, a wounding joke, an unreturnable rejoinder is an important and time-consuming part of their routine. Some participants have performed well – even extremely well: William Hague, David Cameron and Tony Blair generally rose well to the occasion. Others did not. Ian Duncan Smith never shone, and the current sparring partners, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn bring no spark to the event.

Understanding more of this weekly show, and its purpose in building or destroying morale among the troops (the MPs), in providing fodder for the press, and in fine tuning policy has been illuminating.

It’s a thorough, informative and funny account of this peculiarly British institution. Of course I read it enthusiastically: one of the authors, Tom Hamilton, is my son.

Theresa May at PMQs: BBC image

 

This Brexit Business: marching for the People’s Vote

The march, as seen in a plate glass window.

On Saturday morning, we got up at 4.30 a.m. and didn’t get to bed again till 12.30 on Sunday morning.  In between, we drove to York; forked out £60 for tickets and travelled in a coach to London where we spent the day marching, before reversing the procedure in the early evening.  At our ages – we’re both long past retirement age – you don’t do things like that unless it’s for something really important.

It is. For us, and on behalf of our children and grandchildren, this Brexit Business matters more than almost anything else.

We are members of North Yorkshire for Europe, and joined for the day with York for Europe.  We came to London to march and campaign for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal.

York and North Yorkshire organise themselves.

Don’t talk to us about the Referendum being the last word on The Will of the People (a barely more than 50% of those who voted changing the course of a nation’s history?).  Don’t tell us what The People voted for – nobody exactly knows.  Don’t tell us that when companies like Airbus and Siemens warn they may have to leave the UK in the event of a no-deal, that they are simply part of an irresponsible Project Fear.  Yes, we are fearful of Brexit: for us, for our families, for those in insecure employment, for those European citizens now resident here who had considered the UK their home.

On arrival in central London, we joined 100, 000 others on a slow two hour march down Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square and Whitehall and into Parliament Square, which completely failed to accommodate us all.

Despite our serious purpose, we had fun.  Look at the banners, the flags, the posters, the facepaint and wigs; the young, the old: marching, hobbling, manoeuvring wheelchairs and buggies – you’ll even spot one fellow being carried by Donald Trump (as if …).  We enjoyed Mexican cheers (the vocal version of a Mexican wave), bouts of chanting (‘What do we want?’ ‘A People’s Vote!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now!’).  We chatted with marchers from Wales, Devon, Germany, Reading, France, Lambeth, Scotland…..

Then speeches. Rousing, energising speeches from the likes of Caroline Lucas MP, Tony Robinson, Vince Cable MP, David Lammy MP.  Passionate speeches from a hospital consultant, from the young people of OFOC (Our Future, Our Choice).  Video contributions from a WWII veteran and from Chuka Umunna MP.  We cheered them all, and at the end, especially the courageous Tory MP Anna Soubry.

What we want is a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, because apart from a principled few, most MPs are obeying the Whips and toeing the party line, regardless of either their own beliefs, or those of their constituents. If you voted for Brexit, and the government comes up with a good deal for the British people, you have nothing to fear from a People’s Vote.  The government will win the day, and we Remoaners will have to shut up.

If you think that, having learned the terms of the Final Deal, the people should have the Final Say, please sign the petition for The People’s Vote.  It’s here.

PS.  The Daily Express front page on the day of the march…..  there are no words…. don’t they read the news?

  Click on any image to see full size.

Leeds marches for Europe

We don’t do protest marches much.  Well, we did when we lived in France, obviously, because protesting is a way of life there.  Here?  Not so much.

But with Brexit only a year away, and with the intolerable consequences to our economy, our services, our multi-cultural and inclusive way of life becoming daily more apparent, we wanted to join the Leeds March for Europe, arranged in solidarity with events being held in Edinburgh, in Ipswich, in Exeter, in Pontypridd, in Maidenhead, in Ipswich and on the Isle of Wight.

Teresa May, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage lead the way.

We arrived.  We were initially disappointed.  There was a van, topped off with May, Johnson, Gove and Farage and a netball pitch sized banner waiting to lead things off, but were there really only enough people present to fill the Headrow in front of the Town Hall?

Setting off from Leeds Town Hall

Well, no as it turned out.  We set off with new-found friends from York, but soon dropped back to see the real size of the procession.  It went on …. and on.  We met people from every political party and none.  We met OAPs against Brexit.  We met Grannies against Brexit.  We met teenagers against Brexit. We joined in chants orchestrated from different parts of the route.  We met anti-Brexit groups from Hull, from Kent, from Sheffield, from….all over the place.  We were peaceful and good humoured and met surprisingly little heckling.

Back outside the town Hall, it was time for speeches.  We heard from politicians from every main party (well, not UKIP….) and cheered them all.  We heard from the impassioned and articulate young founders of OFOC!      (Our Future, Our Choice) some of whom hadn’t been able to vote in the  referendum, but will have to live with its consequences.  We heard from Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish nurse who has worked in Britain for 17 years, who has a family here, and who no longer feels welcome. We heard from Elena Remigi, founder of Our Brexit Testimonies, from a young British research scientist who also feels her future threatened, and from Sue Wilson, leader of Bremain in Spain.  And we heard from The Big Names.  Prof. AC Grayling courteously and respectfully demolished the arguments on the placard held aloft by the sole courageous Brexiteer who had joined the rally.  Our own MEP Richard Corbett was as incisive and to the point as ever.  And Lord Adonis brought the whole affair to an energising  conclusion, working the crowd so that we all agreed, as we began to make our way home, that we each have a responsibility to work towards making sure that the disaster which is Brexit never actually takes place.

 

Click on any image to see it full size.