Written and performed by Kieran Hodgson
Showing at the Soho Theatre, London, until 2 February then the Southbank Centre for a one-off show on Tuesday 28 May
With the debate over the withdrawal agreement and the backstop dominating the headlines, one might think that another show about Brexit is the last thing anyone would be interested in. Kieran Hodgson’s one-man show about Britain’s entry into Europe provides a welcome and amusing new angle on the topic, however.
The referendum outcome, combined with the revelation that his parents voted Leave, sends Kieran into a nervous breakdown, but also causes him to consider whether he is the one detached from reality. In an effort to understand Britain’s relationship with Europe, Kieran decides to do some research on the events leading up to the 1975 referendum, with the help of a mysterious German librarian.
The core of the play is the recreation of key moments in the period from 1963, when Britain first formally applied to join the then EEC, until the 1975 referendum, when British voters backed continued membership of it, telling the story through impersonations of many of the key figures and with short comic skits. Politicians who make an appearance include prime ministers Harold Macmillan, Ted Heath and Harold Wilson (as well as a cameo from Margaret Thatcher); French leaders Charles De Gaulle and Valéry Giscard D’Estaing also appear, as well as Enoch Powell, Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn (who provides a reminder that in the 1970s a lot of opposition to the EEC came from the left).
As you might expect, the show comes down firmly on the side of the Remain camp. Still, even hardened Brexiteers will appreciate that Hodgson is self-aware enough to poke fun at his own over-reaction, especially his brief infatuation with Ted Heath (complete with photo of him playing on the piano at the former PM’s home). Over the course of the play he is forced to acknowledge that Leave voters aren’t monsters, and some of their points may even be valid. He also concludes with the optimistic message that Brexit doesn’t necessarily mean an end to goodwill between Britain and its cousins on the continent.
This is reflected in the speeches selected. Roy Jenkins’ defence of parliamentary democracy, and the right of MPs to disagree with both their constituencies and their party, is delivered with passion and brio. However, it is the pragmatic, pipe-smoking Harold Wilson who ultimately is the hero of the piece. Indeed, one feels that David Cameron could have learned something from his gentle reminder to other European leaders, during the re-negotiation that preceded the vote, that failure to listen to British concerns would almost certainly result in the UK leaving the EU.
Overall, this is an entertaining, and strangely moving, take on Brexit. Certainly, it is more likely to be successful in changing people’s minds than other takes on the topic.