Brexit has been with us all for over two years now and yet productions of the kind I saw last night are among the first to try and grapple with its emotional fallout rather than the political aspects. This once-in-a-lifetime event has deeply affected almost 5 million people. These are the European citizens who have made their homes in Britain and those Brits who have chosen to live in continental Europe. The B Word -Strategies for a Graceful Exit looks at the personal and emotional cost of Brexit using both humour and drama, with a little music thrown in for good measure.
An originally commissioned play written and produced by the Orange Theatre Company in Amsterdam, the play follows the lives of 8 characters whose lives are deeply intertwined with both Brexit and, ultimately, one another. The characters are drawn largely from the UK and the Netherlands although the role of a wise and successful Syrian refugee helps the audience appreciate differing notions of exile. There are moments in the play when even Brexit troubles pale in comparison to what Roba has experienced fleeing from her Middle Eastern homeland, leaving only destruction behind her.
Issues of race, sexual orientation and the generation gap are also addressed via a selection of characters, each of whom is struggling with his or her own personal tragedy. Each of these struggles is magnified and ultimately clarified by Brexit and in this sense the play is largely positive in approach. While exploring notions of identity and what impact place has on such notions, it chooses to view the personal and emotional challenge of Brexit as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. It also touches on the perennial human desires for both escape and belonging.
Annemijn is a thirty-something Dutch woman who has spent 10 years living in the UK but returns to Amsterdam as she feels increasingly unsure of her position as ‘foreigner’ living in Brexit Britain. However she finds that adjusting to life in Amsterdam is not as easy as she had expected it to be and her feelings about Brexit run high as we see her attacking a blow-up doll with Borris Johnson’s face attached to it. For others like Philip, a victim of a xenophobic/ homophobic attack in Brexit London. His move to Amsterdam represents a fresh start but also an escape from a country which he no longer recognises as his own. The relationship with his working class father is a difficult one and yet at the end of the play there is an unexpected reconciliation between the Brexiteers and the remainers over a makeshift wall in Ramsgate. There are also two Anglo-Dutch weddings and some Broadway style a cappella to lighten the mood.
Ultimately B Word comes out strongly on the side of reconciliation, mutual understanding and tolerance. Perhaps this is what Britain and Brussels are finally going do too – we live in hope!
Souwie Buis 10th November 2018