In Made In China’s last piece We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) it hoped that we were happy, truly happy with the world that we lived in, despite all the pain and violence. We were happy, right? Its latest work Get Stuff Break Free, playing on top of the National Theatre’s roof as part of the Inside Out Festival, looks at the city before us, with each brick a symbol of time and commitment, each building a symbol of our power. It’s a powerful piece that, set upon the roof of the nation’s theatre which acts as a pedestal for the finest work in the country, seems almost to mock us openly and freely. The mocking here is how we are trying our best to hold together this grand idea we have of ourselves, as Britain, as London, as perhaps theatre itself. Everything is alright, isn’t it? We’re still powerful, we’re still together, we’re still part of this club.
Get Stuff Break Free asks its audience to think of the buildings and towers before us, to think of the contrasts between the trees and concrete, to see the differences, to note that we did this, we built this place. With a fragmented narrative, performers Nigel Barrett, Christopher Bailey, Sarah Calver and Jessica Latowicki (the latter being co-collaborator of Made In China) tell us of the band they formed back in the forties, and the music they produced. Naturally they change and evolve with time, both in musical style, from rock, punk and electronia, to differences of opinion about the direction of the band.
This parallel between forming a band and the disagreements of direction is likened, subtly, to that of the country or city we live in today, the city we see from the National Theatre’s rooftop. “We” being the society, perhaps the politicians, the decision makers and the collective group. We wrote the music that became our laws, or our blue prints of the city, and we grew with time, through war and tragedy to be a nation (or band) of strong, collectively strong, and triumphant people. There are references to the bad examples that have gone with this too, but through the fake smiling and candid dancing, we laugh this away. It is only as each performer ends their turn on the stage to face, like a naughty child, against a wall that we realise the full extent of what Made In China’s piece is describing. Their narrative is a wake-up call to all of us who forget that our cities were built upon the power of an empire which exploited and ruled across the world.
It’s a subtle performance, that ends with us looking out across the Thames and the city with fireworks exploding above us. Are we to celebrate our achievements or, as the dying sparkler of Latowicki sitting on a chair before us seems to project, are we tired and exhausted by our efforts towards greatness. Personally, the performance seemed related to our government. Whilst this might be a personal observation of the work, I can’t help but to feel this resonate through Tim Cowbury and Latowicki’s work. They lead us happily down a path of fun and joy, but we soon realise just how twisted that path can be. A powerful, poignant and energised performance set above the institute of the National Theatre, a very fitting image indeed.
Get Stuff Break Free is playing on the rooftop of the National Theatre until 4 July. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.