We know it; we all have feelings about it; it is oft-talked about. And divisive subject material is always a gold mine for creatives. Ian Dixon Potter’s lastest show with Golden Age Theatre Company details the struggle of Ralph and Dorothy (a mother and son) who are unofficially employing Lichtenbergian Heidi as a full-time carer in a post-Brexit Britain, though much darker than the one we’re living in currently. It’s political commentary, mixed with a touch of romance, and wrapped up in Two Ronnies-esque humour.
This is a thought-provoking show, but also extremely polarising. From the balance of the arguments presented in the show, I would be willing to bet every penny I have that Dixon Potter was a strong Remainer. The strength of the Remain side of the show far outweighed the strength of the Leave side. There are a lot of really good variations of the “yeah, but…” argument (you know the one: “yeah, but I don’t mean them” – that one) which I thought was cleverly done. But it kind of feels like a “very special episode” and the conversation seems really…inhuman. A lot of the arguments didn’t sound like things actual people would actually say to people they actually knew, in person – they sounded more like endorsements for either side than true beliefs. But, that could have been because I don’t personally know many Brexiteers who voted to the way they did in order to “get rid of all the foreigners”. I know they do exist and if I had encountered more of them, Dixon Potter’s representation of that specific type of Brexiteer may have seemed more realistic.
In the same vein, I also felt that the show relied far too heavily on the generation gap. Sitting there, as a 22 year-old, I couldn’t have felt more other from the conversations of the 70-something women and, while there obviously is a generational contribution to the way Brexit turned out, it was a bit of an over-simplification of the battle of deeply-embedded beliefs versus personal experiences.
Looking back on it, I’ve finally decided that the show was presenting a hyperbolic possible reality, as opposed to actual reality, but during the show I questioned my knowledge of Brexit enforcement so much. Ralph talks of the UIAEO (a task force whose purpose is to raid out Europeans staying in Britain illegally – colloquially referred to as vowellings) raiding people’s homes and businesses, and machine guns, and helicopters with blinding searchlights, and poison gas grenades. My first thought was okay, welcome to Nazi England. And my second thoughts were along the line of do we actually have the budget for helicopters and house raids?
Maxine Howard as Dorothy was fabulous. She went on quite a rapid character journey, but her delivery of next to all the comic moments was top notch. There are some very lovely moments for all the characters in the show but I was desperate for the actors to relax into their roles a bit more. So much of what they had to offer was diluted by that in-your-head hesitance that comes with the anxiety to put on a good performance. I will give Richard de Lisle a touch more leniency regarding some of his performative tension, as he stepped into the role of Ralph quite last minute and did very well considering that.
Considering the tagline to this show is ‘A Tale of Love and Hate in Stoke On Trent’, the love story between Heidi and Ralph seems a bit forced. Even though it seemed as though that was a central part to the story, it felt hurriedly thrown in along all the Brexit debate. The audience was deprived of seeing their feelings for each other develop organically, meaning one has to make do with a few cute, awkward encounters between the two of them as the basis of their relationship.
One of my biggest quarrels with this show was the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s real abrupt – and I’m talking that kind of feeling where you think there’s an extra step on a staircases but there isn’t and your heart stops for a moment. And after the ending, I was left feeling somewhat empty – there was a message but apart from “Brexit is bad”, I couldn’t tell what it was for the life of me.
Dixon Potter has an issue with Brexit. This is plain to see and his characters are very adept at communicating this issue. I only wish I knew what his message was; but with a history of leaving that up to the audience to decide, perhaps I just need to do a bit more thinking.
Hiding Heidi is playing at the Etcetera Theatre until 3rd December 2017. For more information and tickets, see www.ticketea.co.uk/tickets-theatre-hiding-heidi-tale-love-hate-stoke-trent