Friday, February 23, 2018

Review: 'Derailed' at Ovalhouse, 22nd February 2018

Derailed reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

It's been a year and a half since the referendum and Brexit continues to feel like a suffocating pillow jammed onto my face. The process is set to economically cripple the United Kingdom and restrict the ambitions and freedoms of generations of young people. The over-60s that voted for it in droves can go to hell - they've sabotaged millions of lives due to their senility and the vague belief that the EU produces far too many Muslims regulations.

But I'm a bit biased. My partner is Italian and that fucking referendum tore up any plans we might have had for a secure future. After all, how can you settle down when the government can't even confirm she won't be shoved in a Home Office van, transported to Dover and bunged on a ferry back to the Continent? Even you think that that's unlikely, the outright xenophobia powering Brexit hardly makes Britain a welcoming place for continental Europeans.

All this is why theatre company Little Soldiers (Mercè Ribot & Patricia Rodriguez) are picking up sticks and decamping back to Spain after 12 years in the UK. To mark their departure they've teamed up with Dan Lees and Keir Cooper to throw a going away party - Derailed. The show is a semi-improvised autobiographical reflection on their time in the UK, figuring out whether anything they did here made any difference, how they changed whilst in the country and the usefulness of activism.

All this is stretched over a charismatic, high-energy and very funny 75 minutes, involving a lot of audience participation, group hugs, the creation of Gazpacho, guest appearances from the performers' relatives and a number of scrappy yet kickass punk rock songs. It's a whirlwind of emotions: from anger at closed-minded assholes to a melancholic resignation to a giddy happiness in the connections between us all.

Though chaotic by design, Derailed is studded with moments of powerful drama. My favourite was exploring their reactions to someone shouting at Mercè and Patricia to "go back to their own country" during a 2011 anti-austerity protest - the pair then imagine what they should have eloquently shouted back. Britain (and especially London) can seem superficially welcoming and tolerant, yet lurking deep under the surface is an abiding core of suspicion and hatred of outsiders, stoked to white-hot fury by the fascist press of The Daily Mail and Express.

The show feeds into the dislocating sense that things might not be all that they seem to a continental European living in the UK. The sense that rather than being welcome they're merely tolerated and, no matter how many Rich Tea biscuits they consume, they can never truly call this country home.

This is explored a great song called Blame Game in which we see how blame for what's gone wrong in a country is shunted onto someone else. The late arrival of a letter is blamed on the postman, who blames the government for cutting services, who blames immigrants for parasitising the British economy, who blame the need for a job and money as the reason they're here. 

By the end, it's painted Brexit as the conclusion of a government realising that the best way to force through austerity was to demonise those least able to fight back - the disabled, benefit 'scroungers' and, above all, immigrants. And now we're reaping the consequences.

Brexit is going to impact our lives in an infinite number of horrible ways, limiting opportunities, curtailing ambitions and lowering living standards for generations to come. Perhaps the departure of a very funny devised theatre duo isn't the most crushing effect it'll will have, but it's symptomatic the gradual exodus of talented, creative and passionate people. We'll be poorer without Little Soldier, and everyone like them.

I might be making this all sound a bit grim, but Derailed is straight up good times. Despite not having seen a Little Soldier show before it took me about 30 seconds to like the pair, and I didn't feel even a twinge of doubt when they gave me a hairpiece and had me dancing on stage in front of the audience. Please check out this awesome show - it might be your last chance.

Derailed is at Ovalhouse until March 3rd. Tickets here.

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