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15th July 2019


Jay Darcy reviews Re:Creating Europe at MIF19, an unashamedly pro-EU and anti-Brexit play-come-guest speaker event featuring Lemn Sissay and Juliet Stevenson
Lemn Sissay and Hans Kesting in ReCreating Europe at Manchester International Festival 2019. Photo: Joel Fildes

“What is Europe? Is it a continent or a culture, a bygone dream or a thriving reality – or all of the above?”

This is the question RE:CREATING EUROPE set out to answer, and over the course of 90 minutes, it provided many answers. Directed by Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove, the piece was part-play, part-lecture. It was van Hove’s decision to piece his work in-between those two that made it both different and interesting. We weren’t just being yelled at about why Brexit is bad, nor were we watching a play that forced us to put pieces together. We were spoken to, not preached at or patronised, a rarity when it comes to discussions about Brexit…

The piece opened with English author Sir Michael Morpurgo, OBE, most famous for writing War Horse, reading a new piece he had written exclusively for the show. He gave countless examples of why he is both British and European, and proud to be both. I found his use of the extended metaphor of a family to describe the European Union to be intelligent and evocative.

He spoke with enough passion and zeal to grip even the most apolitical and apathetic audience-member. His use of light humour made his deep, emotional, political monologue easier to listen to. For instance, when referring to the UK as ‘sulking’, he impersonated Margaret Thatcher’s infamous ‘no no no’ to Europe.

It’s also worth mentioning how great the set was: It was an office setting, with chairs at the upstage-left, where the actors all sat when they weren’t speaking, and stools and a lamp at other parts of the stage.

Continuing the office setting, the stage-right had a wall with rectangular windows, where the tech people were sat. I found this great attention-to-detail, in which the tech people became background actors in the ‘office,’ to be worthy of a mention. The EU flag was plastered downstage; this piece was unashamedly European from the get-go right until the end.

The piece featured a trio of acting veterans. Olivier winner Juliet Stevenson CBE treated us to a reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III.

While she impersonated Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May with excellence, it was Doctor Who alumni Christopher Eccleston and Adjoa Andoh who offered the best impressions. Emmy Winner Eccleston, best known for playing the Ninth Doctor, brilliantly impersonated Nigel Farage’s speech to the European Parliament following the Brexit vote. Andoh, a veteran of the RSC and National Theatre, did a hilarious impression of Anne Widdecombe’s recent speech to the European Parliament. Having a black woman read that speech made the outrageousness of Widdecombe’s comments about slavery all the clearer.

Lemn Sissay MBE, the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics and the Chancellor of the University of Manchester, was the final ‘star’ of the piece. As well as featuring five famous ‘guest speakers,’ the piece also starred a cast of nine from International Theatre Amsterdam, all of whom are very successful in their home country, with Maarten Heijmans being another Emmy winner. They may not have been the ‘stars’ of this piece, but they certainly still shone… (Editor’s note: badum-tiss).

Sissay told me the actors and speakers had only begun rehearsing earlier that day. They may have had scripts in their hands, but they were so talented and professional that you soon forgot, let alone cared. As well as readings, impressions and extracts from plays, the piece used video projections, many of which were particularly funny. They helped break the piece up and keep the audience’s minds from exploding from all of the information, intelligence and Shakespeare we had being handed to us…

The show ended with the whole cast stood inside the EU’s stars whilst they recited Obama’s anti-Brexit speech. A diverse bunch – British and Dutch, black and white, old and young – this was a bold symbol of unity and a celebration of diversity. It wasn’t just anti-Brexit; it was pro-EU.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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