Tag Archives: Carol Ann Duffy

Voices and Choices


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Thursday 25th May, 2017


This touring show from the National Theatre is described as a work in progress – largely because, I suspect, Brexit has yet to happen and the debate still rages on – this absorbing piece of verbatim theatre, using the words of ordinary people from across the nation (as well as the drivel of politicians) to chart the country’s mood, before, during and after the referendum that split the UK in two.

In a clever framing device,  writer Carol Ann Duffy has Britannia herself (Penny Layden) welcome representative from the regions to a meeting, a chance to listen.  The regional reps are clearly distinguishable by their accents and attitudes. For example, Cymru (the marvellous Christian Patterson) enters voice first, as befits a Welshman; Laura Elphinstone’s North East rep is a hoot, deadpan and down-to-earth, plain-speaking and unpretentious.  Cavan Clarke’s Northern Ireland breaks out into a spot of Riverdance in one of the show’s livelier moments, while Stuart McQuarrie’s Caledonia proudly recites Robert Burns, supplying the whisky and the pragmatism.

Britannia oversees as, in the voices of their ‘constituents’, the reps air the views of the people, complete with hesitations, repetitions and deviations, for spot-on authenticity.  The opinions are often humorous, telling, and eye-opening.  It’s like an extended episode of Creature Comforts with flesh-and-blood actors standing in for the plasticene animals.

For what is essentially a piece in which seven actors sit behind desks, it comes across as anything but static.  Director Rufus Norris breaks up the recitations with action and humour – although most of the best lines come from the vox pops.  The reps may be stereotypes but the many and varied statements we hear mark us as a nation of individuals, albeit with some shared characteristics.  It’s almost as if the UK is a microcosm of the EU.  Fancy that!

Britannia chips in statements from MPs.  Her Boris Johnson is almost as vile as the real thing, as he tries to make bizarre and ludicrous analogies instead of facing issues head on.  Layden positively drips evil as Nigel Farage, spewing his ‘voice of reason’ bile.  Yuck.  Although it’s not quite a year since the vote, the show brings it all flooding back, including the frustration and disbelief I felt at the mismanagement of the entire campaign by both sides.

More than that, the show is a celebration of British identity in all its manifestations, reminding us we have always been a diverse agglomeration of regional differences.

The show ends with Britannia saying she still loves us all and what we need more than ever is leadership.

Let’s hope we get it, eh, Brit?

My Country

Making a song and dance about Brexit, the cast of My Country.

Telling Tales


Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 6th December, 2015


These dramatisations of Carol Ann Duffy’s adaptations of Brothers Grimm stories are linked together by having the cast meeting up in the middle of a forest to spend the night sharing the tales. Who these people are we don’t know but they share a common purpose. They gather downstage to peer into a large storybook in order to announce the title of each story. Narrating in unison they are effective, with impeccable timing and a sort of hive mind when it comes to intonation and expression. Narrating as individuals is less consistent – some are stronger than others but such is the democratic approach of director James David Knapp, everyone gets a fair crack at it.

First up is Hansel and Gretel, a stark story of willful child neglect and cannibalism. The leads (Guy Jack and Lindsey Davis) are lively enough but their evil mother could do with being a bit louder if she is to live up to the narrators’ description. Strings of lights descend to suggest the witch’s edible cottage. It’s rather pretty but I don’t like the collective oohs and ahhs from the cast – it’s like having canned laughter telling you when to laugh.

As story follows story (The Golden Goose is funny; The Magic Table, The Gold Donkey and the Cudgel in the Sack has its moments) it becomes apparent that everything is being delivered at the same leisurely pace. This helps with clarity and focus but can give rise to problems with pacing – it takes ages for a knife to pass from hand to hand across the stage and what should be quick and snappy interjections tend to slow down the thrust of the storytelling. Why these storytellers in the middle of the woods wear pyjamas and dressing gowns escapes me.

All that being said, this is a pleasing production overall. Phil Rea and Ed Brewster are enjoyable as the ugly stepsisters of Ashputtel (Cinderella) and Dave Hill brings weight and import to a range of roles. It’s difficult to single out cast members from the ensemble – the programme doesn’t attribute roles – but as a group they work well, like a well-oiled machine. It’s a good-looking production: Keith Harris’s set has stylized trees and grand staircases, and it’s lit by James Booth to accentuate mood – A lively swordfight between a princess and a dragon lady picks up the pace before the final romantic reunion of that princess with her prince; these are lovely moments where the director uses theatrical technology to enhance the storytelling, but there is a story about a bird, a mouse and a sausage (of all things) that just doesn’t bring anything to the party.

I think perhaps a smaller performance space or just having the ensemble group closer together would speed things up and make the throwaway lines sharper and snappier, but it’s good to see these stories still have power to work on our imaginations and strike at our humanity both directly and on a symbolic level. An alternative to the glitz and glamour of pantomime, this Grimm Tales amuses rather than enchants.