It’s impossible to escape the numb uncertainty that has screeched in our mostly, dumbfounded faces for the last month. Like a banshee that has devoured four bags of Skittles, the Brexit result has kept the volume firmly and maniacally up, giving us horribly sleepless nights. With the British government playing an ‘unlikely to happen’ game and subsequently juggling with peoples’ lives, who are we to follow? Who should we trust? What in God’s name will come of a Europe-less Britain?
Whatever our opinion of politicians, there’s no escaping fact, in all its disgusting glory. But where does this veer dangerously into fiction? Imagine the inner-workings of 10 Downing Street playing out on a stage, with actors portraying our Prime Minister and their team of advisors. The line between fantasy and our reality is a faint one. Now imagine what you are seeing on stage is comedy and still, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the outlandish script and what we might well be able to imagine coming out of our Prime Minister’s mouth.
Michael Healey’s Proud gives us an almost too accurate insight into the world of Canadian politics. Modelled on the country’s 22nd Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, one of the play’s two protagonists sets out on a destructive route of misdirection and distraction to encourage people’s engagement, and thus his own and the party’s selfish needs. I sat down with Proud’s director, Jonny Kelly and lead actor, Emily Head on a very hot, sticky day for a chat over some much appreciated iced water.
Now couldn’t be a better time for such a popular and controversial theme to hit London theatre, but just how relevant does Kelly think it is?
“Incredibly. Two main themes in the play are distraction and division, which are being employed by the bucket-load in today’s political landscape.”
But what about the content? It may be very relevant but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s specific to Canada.
“I had worries about staging something based on Canadian politics and how it would translate,” explains Kelly. “If we made a joke here about Boris Johnson’s looks then maybe a Canadian audience wouldn’t be as clued up but there’s a joke in Proud about John Bird and the other night the audience laughed, but if you knew what he looked like, it’d be even funnier. There are a few moments like that, but that’s about as non-translatable as it gets. Mostly, it’s applicable to everyone.”
This relevance is fundamental in connecting to an audience, especially with a subject such as that in Proud, but the overall tone is a humorous one. Can we laugh in the face of politics? Kelly thinks so: “The play touches on absurdity of it all.” This indicates inflated comedy – a situation so bad, you have to turn it into satire to engage with it?
“It’s important to remember that politicians are human, capable of error and make things up – especially with Brexit. No one knows how it will pan out. It’s farcical comedy not having a plan for if we left the EU. It’s mental!”
Are we guilty of conveniently forgetting that our politicians are human, just like us? Humans, making very difficult and often catastrophic decisions. Do we expect too much? The UK’s current Conservative government, with, some may be inclined to think, a thoroughly right-wing, anti-liberal philosophy and agenda, it is unsurprising that the ‘every person’ is under-represented. Head believes that the play’s Prime Minister can be identified with.
“He’s definitely under the blanket term of politician and has catchphrases but a very human side leaks out, which is especially aided by my character, Jisbella. He has a few conversations with her about what he believes and doesn’t, that is more personal – not professional. He comes across as human,” she says.
Does this make the Prime Minister character a fair person that can empathise with his country’s general needs? Kelly is more inclined to think so.
“We’ve treated Nick’s (Cass-Beggs) character and Harper as two different people. Some of the things he says are fucked up… the crooks of his conservatism are to make people fight against each other, and that makes them engaged, which then makes them happier. That’s his main thing and it’s a little psychotic to me! But he’s doing it from a good place.”
“He’s just misguided.” Head agrees. Witnessing the inner-workings of a character, apparently stable enough to manage an entire country must be extraordinarily worrying for Proud’s audience. The line between fact and fiction is a messy zig-zag that only emphasises the farcical quality the politics of reality have.
Perhaps humouring an area many of us know so little about is a welcome distraction from our grave worries over the welfare of ourselves, our family, friends and country. Ultimately, however, it’s devastatingly clear that a destructive human being who is capable of mistakes is much more terrifying than a whirlwind of disconnected action. Proud highlights the sheer absurdity of politics and as entertaining as a play may be to watch, when it translates into real-life, we have cause for concern. Head’s character could be the warrior we need, “I think everyone likes the idea of storming into a room and shaking things up a little.”
Proud is playing at the Finborough Theatre until August 2.