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Review: My Country; a work in progress at HOME Manchester until Saturday 22 April

I watched My Country; a work in progress at HOME on the day the Prime Minister announced a general election would be held in June.

This play provides a timely reminder of the real people, the real voices, the real hearts, hurts, and hopes that travel to polling stations to leave their marks on the ballot paper.

In the months following the Brexit vote in June 2016, a team of interviewers from the National Theatre spoke to people nationwide. The result is My Country; a work in progress, a new play, directed by Rufus Norris, which is constructed from interviews with ordinary people, words by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and key speeches given by politicians during and after the Referendum campaign.

As Brexit continues to dominate public debate, this play asks in a funny and moving way can there ever be a United Kingdom?

The play starts with an empty stage filled with ballot boxes. Then Britannia calls a meeting to listen to her people and delegates arrive from across the UK.

Britannia (or ‘Britney’) is brilliantly played by Penny Layden. She is the voice of authority who contorts her face and vocal delivery to channel David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, among others.

Sitting at austere desks, starkly lit by desk lamps, five actors represent the nations and regions Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the East Midlands and South West.

The talented and likeable actors in My Country; a work in progress deliver a multiplicity of voices from all shades of the Leave and Remain camps, providing  humour, uplift, insight and pathos as we participate in ‘the Sacrament of listening.’

The National Theatre interviews that created this work show how deeply the 2016 Referendum affected the national psyche. The process of deciding how to vote made people dig deep into inter-generational memories, to reflect on place, belonging, nationality and internationality, the meaning of loyalty to and investment in community, the bonds that join and divide us, love of flag, customs and country, or determination to shun nationalism and see community as global.

It was touching how the actors representing the nations and regions of the United Kingdom spoke the words from ordinary people with which they had been entrusted with such tenderness and conviction.

It made us believe in people and feel, somehow, that the rejoicing, suffering, hoping hearts of the people around us are more important that politics.

My Country; a work in progress is at HOME Manchester until Saturday 22 April.

Tickets priced £10 to £24 are available from the box office phone 0161 200 1500 or go to the website homemcr.org

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