England, sort your shit out
16 April 2019
Liam Rees and Javairya Khan come together to discuss Englishness, nationhood and theatre
Anyone who was at the Theatre, Nation and Community in a time of National Crisis discussion (read: Brexit discussion, read: all the systemic injustices in the UK discussion) will say that things got heated pretty quickly. With a panel that consisted of Alan Lane (Slung Low), Julia Thomas (National Theatre Wales), Tracy Brabin MP (Batley and Spen), and director Roy Alexander Weise, there was a general consensus that things need to change. Vague much? Unsurprisingly Sunday's events sparked many further discussions and this is but one of many.
I found your question “Who here’s not English?” really interesting because, obviously, as a Northern, British-Asian woman I’ve got a complicated relationship with Englishness. I wouldn’t describe myself as English, but British. But plenty of people would say I’m not either of them.
Yeah, I definitely phrased it that way because I noticed when most people were talking about identities and labels they’d talk about ethnicity or gender or class but no one was talking about nationality. I found it quite telling that Englishness was the default that no one had thought to question, especially at a supposedly ‘national’ festival. How’ve you found NSDF so far?
Well, I’m not here as a student but I’m enjoying it. I’m currently the Assistant Producer at Slung Low but I honestly didn’t know producing was a thing until a couple of years ago. I’d studied neuroscience and was completely lost when it came to what I wanted to do next and got involved with Batley & Spen Youth Theatre Company completely by accident. I had no idea that the skills I had and things I enjoyed doing could be used in theatre and were essentially what producing is. My family still wouldn’t be able to tell you what my job title is.
That’s similar to me, I studied languages at uni in Edinburgh and from that and the Fringe I ended up moving to Belgium. It’s really strange watching all these arguments as a Scotsman living abroad because, for a start my colleagues are either confused or just don’t give a shit. And back in Scotland we already had the whole conversation around what kind of country we want to be back in the 2016 referendum which was amazingly civil. I disagreed with friends and family but there was none of this division. Also, the way the National Theatre of Scotland operates is so radically different to the NT in London: NTS doesn’t have a building, it makes shows for theatres but also for community centres in the Highlands and Islands.
I see that sort of radical, different way of doing things at Slung Low. Like Alan said in the discussion, being practical and offering tangible solutions like making sure that the venue is available for hire if someone wants it, for a First Holy Communion or majorettes ceremony or that the van is available for use by the community. There’s also what Tracy Babin was saying – right now social mobility is all about talented kids moving away from their communities. You’re only seen as having made it if you get out of where you’re from but right now, my ideal is working up North (whatever that’s defined as).
That’s fair, London is objectively awful. It’s weird there because even though I am white and I am British, because of my Scottish accent I feel quite marked out as an outsider. In Belgium no one knows where I’m from – I’m neutral?
I suppose if you wrote or made anything in England it’d be read as “a Scottish play”? Like anything I write/do is inherently seen as political – it would be seen as an Asian or Northern or working class story regardless of what it’s actually about. I like what Roy said – all these problems are inherited and belong to all of us so we’ve all got to fix it, it’s got to be allyship and not saviourism, and that means that there will be work that’s not ‘for’ you, by people who are different and have those different experiences.
To be honest I think the fact that NTS and National Theatre Wales exists is proof that the NT has fundamentally failed – setting up an English National Theatre and a devolved parliament would be one of the best ways to sort this problem.
That way England can sort its own shit out.
That’s another debate!
This is just a snippet of one conversation that ranged from ‘fuck institutions, fuck gatekeeping, and fuck barriers’ to serious muttering about putting Chris Thorpe forward as UN Secretary General. We hope some of you disagreed with what we’ve said so please do give us a shout and maybe we can see why we’re all wrong. Hopefully that way we can find some common ground.
Photo credit: Beatrice Debney