I’m about to go on tour with a solo show about a white British man in his 40s called Chris who is definitely not me. It’s about a journey he takes because he doesn’t want to be British any more. And that journey starts on the morning after the Brexit referendum. But the show’s not about Brexit.
The best way I found to write about Brexit was telling myself I wasn’t. When we started the conversations that became Status, the referendum hadn’t happened yet. And I couldn’t write about Brexit, because whatever I’d written, it wouldn’t have been this.
So I wrote a Brexit show that wasn’t. A show that’s about some of the underlying feelings that contributed to the current situation, but in which Brexit was as much a trigger as a subject. It helped me get around the fact that to make something about the now, about this moment, always feels like giving it a sell-by date.
I’ve made something that reflects the conversations I had over the last two years – all around my country and beyond it – about nationality. About the way we feel it, its centrality – or not – to our individual sense of who we are and to what extent someone like me should even be allowed to exercise the privilege of walking away and dismissing it as a project with a shard of fascism in its heart.
Of course, nationality, like the borders it springs from, is arbitrary – an imposition born from geography, luck and subjugation. It’s made up. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real and has real consequences. It doesn’t mean that I should feel able to walk away from it because it’s uncomfortable.
When writing and performing, there’s always this voice that says ‘tackle the issues’. But for me, the issue is usually the thinking behind the issue. Find one aspect of how we think that fizzes underneath like an unseen electrical fault. Find what makes you uncomfortable. Poke your finger in the socket that’s making the weird buzzing sound. Then see what happens.
The conversations I had – with Maori activists, Biafran organisers, Germans in Ramsgate, Syrians in Mainz, in Monument Valley, Wigan and Darlington – touched on all sorts of subjects, Brexit included. I’ll leave you to guess where it was more present.
But underneath them, the same concerns spark up about how to deal with the made-up things we’re given, that are nevertheless still facts. One fact is that I’m still the same idiot telling the story and singing the songs. Something changed as well, though. Paraphrasing the other idiot who got us in this current mess – the show’s about the inescapable fact we’re all in this together. Running away from that is tempting, but it’s not an option.
Status tours the UK until June 2019. For details see chinaplatetheatre.com