Calling time

Endings are beginnings

We've decided that when we perform Manpower on 1st February 2019, in Aberystwyth, it will be for the last time.

It's work that is still resonating with audiences -- maybe more in the present political situation than it did when we made it two years ago -- but we've got to say this is the end. The obvious reason is that we are busy: we've new work to make, another show touring, and lots of other projects on our plates. That, however, has never stopped us from keep work in rep before: almost all our work remains available for years.

When we rewrote Manpower in Summer of 2016, Brexit was new. We spent time in Portugal writing some of the show in a small village, and the incredulity of the locals matched our own. We spent time reading about the places which had voted for it, and the motivations behind that vote. We became less incredulous, and more frustrated with the fragility of democracy. We wanted to make something that was sympathetic, entertaining, and acknowledge the complexities of what had happened.

But we didn't expect the shambles which has been born of the referendum. We thought that somebody would have a plan. We thought that arguments for enacting Brexit would become clearer, more compelling, and that an optimism might take over -- that there would be opportunities to grasp.

I mean that in the rough sense of us the British, but writing it, I also realise there's us, a theatre company which has seen our own conversations with European partners come to an abrupt halt. Why would anyone choose to partner with unpredictability and unknowns? (Well, as artists, we rather value unpredictability and unknowns, but even if that value is acknowledged, they aren't often targeted by producers and managers and funders.)

Manpower has a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour. It relies on the audience believing things will be all right in the end -- because otherwise, laughing at Brexit is just failing to take it seriously. Increasingly, that's hard for us to do. Audiences don't seem to laugh any less, but perhaps there's more bitterness underlying it. Last autumn, one person wrote some very enthusiastic feedback, and then ended by saying we should have made more of the move from an economy with 80% manufacturing and 20% services to the inverse.

It's true that shift underlies much of the socioeconomic and political challenge that Britain has seen since it voted for Europe in 1975. It's true that in playing with the stereotype of a physically active man given to expressing his opinions without qualification and in the form of 'fact', we're not giving space to office man, managerial man, Mondeo man, or stay-at-home father.

We were interested in the stories that led to Brexit. In how information could be presented to support the case a person believed in. In the narratives people build about who they are and what their nation might be. In the power of that call to reclaim control.

Because in a shift to a stronger service economy, the jobs Britons do have become more about control. But the people who don't have jobs at all have very little opportunity. And the inequalities have grown, continue to grow, seem almost unassailable as global corporations amass power and the information about people which allows them to keep that power.

So Brexit has, for us, stopped being funny. It's become tragedy: we sit watching the news and willing the protagonists to change their doomed trajectories. Even acknowledging the flaws of their characters, we think there must be opportunity for change, to veer from the path that leads to the obvious, unwanted, end.

And still they go on.