My Country: A Work in Progress, Warwick Arts Centre, until May 27, 2pm and 7.30pm
There is no more disarming theatrical device than seeing a large male actor speaking the words of, say, a young female. It has been used in adverts, pop videos and most recently in the musical London Road.
In this National Theatre production, by Rufus Norris and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Norris who also directs, creates a memorable experience.
We, the audience, are invited to partake in the “sacrament of listening”. What we are treated to was described by a cast member in the post-performance Q&A as the “music of voices”. The montage of verbatim dialogue is heartfelt, funny, confused, stereotypical and aggressively regional.
Seventy per cent of the dialogue is from interviews carried out on the National’s behalf immediately after the EU referendum. One gets a real sense of communities venting their feelings and the cast cleverly morph gender and age in voicing the words of the interviewees.
Britannia, played by Penny Layden, calls a conference of representatives from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the North East, East Midlands and the South West. The protagonists arrive to a medley of nationalistic tunes overlaid by Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes, and the scene is set.
Although London’s remain voice is conspicuously and deliberately absent, Britannia represents the official Westminster view, cleverly portraying the main players, Boris, Dave, and Nigel etc, as well as the murdered MP Jo Cox.
The whole narrative is bound by Carol Ann Duffy’s cohesive verse.
The players hold up photographs of the individuals they are speaking for. Christian Patterson gets to channel his inner Shirley Bassey as we are treated to a carousel of regional musical idioms from Showaddywaddy to Cavan Clarke’s Lord of the Dance. As the piece closes and the players slowly leave the stage, the audience hears for the first time recordings of the interviewees’ real voices.
It is an arresting moment reminding you that these people and their views are real.
Although it appears to have been devised before some of the wider repercussions of rifts in families, neighbourhoods and workplaces were exposed, it conveys an oddly positive message about the state of the nation, with a blend of pathos and humour.
If ever a National Theatre production deserved wider exposure through their NT Live cinema programme, this is it.