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On Making Political Theatre

My Dad and I regularly debate politics, in fact it’s mostly all we talk about. After brief conversations where I relay the events of my week to to him on the phone there is a brief pause and he’ll ask me did I watch the football at the weekend. I say, “No dad, I don't watch football anymore. Not since the Olympics anyway as I have more respect for those athletes than overpaid thugs and all their related drama”. There is then another long pause where he considers handing the phone back to my Mam in order to chat about life and whatnot before I’ll ask, “How are things back home in Ireland?” He’ll sigh and say, “No news”. I’ll retort, “And is the country still in the shit?” at which point he’ll give me the ins and outs of ‘corrupt bankers and legislators who are running the country into the ground’. We mainly focus on economics and larger issues at hand rather than the local furore over water charges.

The reason I bring this up is my dad left a lasting impression on me as a young man when he said “Know your politics son, and say nothing”.

He wanted me to be enlightened to the wider world around me, wanted me to engage with it, rather like a sponge sucking up all scandal, opinion, spin, travesty and ‘well-meaning but ultimately misguided lie fed to us by greedy politicians’. Keep your cards close to your chest was what he meant I suppose. I’ll be honest, I don't even know what my dads politics are. I’m not even sure he’s ever voted and as a household we never spoke about which party we might support. My Dad has also never been politically active. Never a counsellor - nothing. He led a normal working life in the same job for over 35 years. But a savvy, well-informed, articulate, political mind is what he possesses. Able to debate on many levels with insightful, poignant and accurate government and corporate happenings in the world. He has devoured every book by Michael Lewis to John Perkins. The economic crash of 2008 has been a rich vein of conversation for some time now. But this sits at odds with we me - “Know your politics son, and say nothing”.

The Lab Collective make political theatre. I often debate with Natalie and Joe (our co-artistic directors) about all manner of events from the first past the post system versus proportional representation through to privatization of the NHS and tax reforms. Why? Because they effect us directly and we are passionate about the world we live in. This debate allows us to shape our opinion and make wiser choices when it comes to one of the greatest things about democracy - your vote. I can’t say nothing. I must be heard and after all I'm electing someone to be my voice in parliament. But how do I choose? Well this helped greatly -

It’s pointed me in the direction of a party at least but now I must find a leader to believe in. In 2010’s general election I voted Liberal Democrat because Nick Clegg gave me someone to believe in, he wanted electoral reform, changing the way Britain votes from a first-past-the-post system to a proportional representation. I marched one Monday not long after May 7th 2010 from Trafalgar Square to Millbank were Nick Clegg was holding talks with David Cameron about forming a new coalition government. Thousands of us stood outside and chanted ‘WE WANT TO SPEAK TO NICK!’, calling him out, demanding nay pleading that he make the right choice. Whatever the outcome he promised that ‘electoral reform would happen, student fees would not rise’ and he would ‘make the right choice’ for us, the people.

I did not get what I wanted. In the coming years I was disillusioned. Broken even. But I still believe in democracy.

Now what if we had the chance to build our ideal political leader? What if we, the people, had the opportunity to not only influence their policies but to actually put the the policy directly into their hands. Welcome The Candidate. This is exactly what The Lab Collective intend to do in their upcoming show. An amazing cast has been assembled in the form or Omar Ibrahim and Matthew Flacks, Natalie and Joe will be steering the ship and Elizabeth Sian Crocket will be along as assistant director. Where will I be? In the room, chirping up whenever I can and helping get Omar and Matthew ready for the fight of their lives.

You see, the participants (we don't call patrons audience, they are participants because they tread an active path through all our work) will be there to debate their politics until a consensus is reached allowing The Candidate to adopt said policy. What happens after is yet to be decided as rehearsals and the devising process starts in a few weeks. Needless to say we’re all wildly excited. We expect fireworks in the the devising room. We expect even more fireworks when we put the baying public in a room.

So no! I will not know my politics but say nothing. I will rant. I will rave. I will talk to as many people as I can (mainly in the bar after the shows) in a perfectly polite way, of course. We may not re-invent the wheel, we may or may not come up with a revolutionary new policy that saves the NHS. But what we are guaranteed to do is start the debate. Too often we hear politicians in answer to a question ‘that is certainly something we should have a discussion about’. Good. Well here’s the platform, lets start...


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