Ahead of their last tour date, Alister Lownie looks at the themes of power and the politically complex commentary on England’s working men tackled in Two Destination Language’s Manpower. Men, expectations, work and economics in the years since Britain voted to be a part of Europe make up the building blocks of the piece, devised by Lownie and Katherina Radeva.
Back in spring, everything was different. The trees were green, budding, alive. We booked a little tour for a show (Manpower) we knew we wanted to revise it a bit, to make it more relevant. We looked forward to the work we would do together. We went to a theatre meeting in Amsterdam and laughed about those crazy political outsiders entering the debates here and in America. The Panama Papers rocked the world of tax avoidance and we looked forward to reform.
Such innocence. It hasn’t turned out like we imagined. Not just since the spring, either. This isn’t the world we were promised: when I was young, living in the USA, we all held hands and stood together, swaying and singing: “we are the world, we are the children … it’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me.” What happened to the better days? What happened to togetherness and hope?
So when we got to the rehearsal room with Manpower, we knew we had to respond. And we’ve made a show that’s maybe a little raw, a cry of not understanding – or perhaps a cry of understanding all too well – how it came to this. A show that prods and questions, and refuses to let anyone off comfortably.
We always like talking to people after performances. They’ve said
“Amazing: despite the age difference, you’re saying exactly what I’ve been saying for years.”
“We need difficult work in difficult times.”
“Challenged my ideology.”
“Beat the hell out of Strictly.”
What we notice, though, is that people are fired up to discuss these things. They’ve sat together talking politics while we load the van. So far, at least two fathers have given their sons impromptu history lessons. And we’ve loved being part of that.
The discussion is certainly getting going. In the show, we confront the lack of trust: from the wires in your hi-fi box to people who claim you can have your cake and eat it, is the nation at the mercy of scam artists? At the same time, Kat deliberates the ethics of DIY while Alister has a couple of building projects. There are rough cut rounds from British trees, and factory planed imports from European forests. Sometimes you just need to get on with the job, and sometimes you take comfort in getting things right. Alister does, at least: Kat’s got a whole load of opinions picked up from years in England that burst across it all.
We’re looking forward to getting more voices involved in unpicking what’s gone on with men and power and work and politics. We don’t have the answers but we’re pretty sure they don’t come from an increasingly more divided society. As Michael Jackson led us in that long-ago song: “Let’s realise that a change can only come, when we stand together as one.”
Manpower is at South Street, Reading on December 8.