Nick Ahad - why theatre can offer us some repsite from Brexit

How to react to the most extraordinarily chaotic moment in British political history?

Tessa Parr in Amy Leach's Hamlet at Leeds Playhouse.
Tessa Parr in Amy Leach's Hamlet at Leeds Playhouse.

I’ve heard some announce recently they don’t want to discuss the maelstrom in which we find ourselves because they’re “fed up of Brexit” and anyway, they “don’t do politics”. Unfortunately, for those who utter it, whether you want to do politics or not, politics still continues on its destructive path.

I do, however, understand the need for Brexspite. (What? Everyone else is creating ridiculous portmanteaux, why shouldn’t I get in on the act with my own slamming together of Brexit and respite?).

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But where to find a small pocket of Brexspite, a resistance to the slings and arrows of outrageous politicking in Britain 2019?

I have a couple of suggestions.

First, Princess and the Hustler. As I wrote in Culture last week, this is a new production from the wonderful Sheffield-based company Eclipse. A black-led theatre company that tells the missing stories of Black Britain, it is doing incredibly important work and is led brilliantly by the powerhouse that is Dawn Walton.

The company’s latest production is a new play from Chinonyerem Odimba and a couple of hours spent in the company of the work of Eclipse sounds like a great way to escape politics (I confess I haven’t seen it yet, but it comes highly recommended). Princess and the Hustler, at Hull Truck this week, tells the story of a boycott of the Bristol bus company in 1963.

A pivotal moment in British history which led to the first Equalities and Discrimination laws, the play tells the story of the fallout when eighteen-year-old Guy Bailey was refused a job interview by the Bristol Omnibus Company because of the colour of his skin. With the horrifying rise in race crime we’ve seen since the 2016 referendum it feels like a vitally important and relevant piece of work.

Oh, hang on. Maybe this piece of theatre isn’t an escape from contemporary politics.

Okay, how about Amy Leach’s Hamlet at Leeds Playhouse, currently receiving well earned four and five star reviews. A breathtaking storm of a story that is viewed anew thanks to Leach’s vision and the casting of Tessa Parr as a female Princess Hamlet, it is an utterly vital production.

It tells the story of ambition and love and death in an incredibly fresh production that brings great clarity to how political forces weigh heavy on individuals. Ah. Wait a moment.

You see my point? You can’t escape politics, because politics are our lives. What you can do is witness politics through the prism of art which at its best is a way for us understand the world.

Or you could bury your head in the sand because you ‘don’t do politics’.