England is a fucked-up world of its own, a catalyst for change that has a stubborn insistence on perpetually staying the same. We grasp onto tradition whilst preaching a liberality that consciously forgets our colonial past and less than unified present. Death of England is a comedy on the surface and a societal dialogue at its heart, it weaves in and out of the heartbreak of losing a parent and steps into the fate of the country with a fast and impactful pace.
Writer Roy Williams and Writer and Director Clint Dyer have curated a reflection on England as it currently stands. On the face of it we may have moved on from the brutality of our parent’s race and class wars, yet the powerful are once again engaged with a sense of Nationalism which befits an older England rather than a United Kingdom.
Williams and Dyer capture this truth with wit and comedy, creating an alarming yet inspiring single man discourse that has the uncanny ability to tap into the psyche of multiple and various characters that each dip a different toe into British culture. We are reminded that Brexit is happening, and we did not win the world cup and England is failing its people.
At the centre of it all is Michael, the incredible Rafe Spall, a cockney lad with a drunken vendetta against his more than problematic father, now in the grave. Spall is energetic and has an instant connection with the surrounding audience. He darts around on a cross, the bones of the English flag, and the audience get a 360-degree view of his mental breakdown.
Spall’s ability to remember such a magnanimous number of lines whilst bringing the audience along on his stream of fragmented yet clear consciousness in a way that feels increasingly dynamic is astounding. There is a collective appreciation and comradery felt for the man, or more accurately men, he is portraying. He embodies his father, sister, mother, friends and strangers alike, all with all deserved confidence.
The fast and decisive dialogue has you in stitches and collectively gasping in discomfort at its approach to the overwhelming and phenomenal truth of our society; England is dying. There is no rigidity to the performance, its politics are accessible, and its familial backbone is strong. The lights beam on and the music blasts in an all-encompassing hour and forty minutes, you’d be mistaken if this doesn’t trigger you into a moment of self-reflection, and lucky if you’re not blinded. One thing that remains inarguable is that while England may be dead, this production is oh so alive.
Death of England is playing at The National Theatre until the 7 March. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.