Review: My Country; a work in progress – National Theatre at Liverpool Playhouse

by Nigel Smith IN the wake of the EU Referendum last June, the National Theatre sent a team of ten interviewers around the country to record the thoughts of a broad selection of people, ranging in age from 9 to 97. The resulting transcripts were assembled into this verbatim play by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, alongside quotes from leading political figures who had contributed to the campaigns and debates. On its surface the play feels like a commentary on or maybe reaction to the decision to leave the EU, but the poetic and sideways approach to delivering the text aims to make it more than this. In what appears to be a counting station in a typical town hall, the figure of Britannia is joined by representatives of six UK regions, assembling to hear the result of the referendum. Britannia is played by Penny Layden, who embodies a range of politicians including, amongst others, some startlingly lifelike renderings of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. The arguments for and against are voiced in varying degrees of clarity in extracts from the verbatim interviews, in which the other performers segue into a variety of regional dialects and characters to voice the views of the people. As the 90 minute unbroken span draws toward its close and the result is announced, their voices merge into the sort of conversation in which everyone is talking and nobody is listening, and eventually they melt into the recorded voices of the interviewees themselves. It is an interesting concept and entertainingly played out, and in the end it becomes clear that it’s not the particular result of a particular vote that’s important here. What is really under discussion seems more to be the reasons why people make choices, what influences their decisions, and how a lack of trust or engagement changes the responses of communities who feel they have no voice. Whilst entertaining is always welcome, there’s a way in which the need to entertain overwhelms the message, leaving a feeling of an opportunity lost. This play should make the audience enthralled, engaged or even angry, but for a large part it just makes them laugh, and in that sense it feels as though Duffy and director Rufus Norris have sold out somewhat. As a touring production from the National’s Dorfman, the creators need to have more trust that regional audiences are every bit as savvy as London ones, and that a play doesn’t need sugar-coating to have appeal outside the capital. My Country continues touring through to 1st July.