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'Any artist should provoke a reaction'

Thursday, 23rd November, 2017 9:10am

We are living in a political climate arguably more volatile than any other for quite some time. In Europe divisions run deeper and more profoundly than they have at any other time in recent history.

The refugee crisis which reached an climax in 2015 remains a painful and persistent thorn in the side of the EU, an organisation which prides itself on consensus and cooperation amongst its members, some of whom are becoming increasingly agitated.

A combination of frustration and disillusionment has precipitated a sharp divergence of political viewpoints on the refugee crisis. On one hand, you have Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats in Germany urging European countries to take their fair share of refugees. On the other, you have nationalistic, populist parties like Fidesz in Hungary and UKIP in Britain actively pushing back against the influx of migrants fleeing war-torn countries like Syria.

‘This Beach’, the new project by theatre production company Brokentalkers, takes a refreshingly humorous view of arguably the greatest European dilemma which has faced the European Union in its fifty-plus year history.

“The intention, I suppose, is to highlight a particular standpoint, of an ignorance of the history around migration,” Brokentalkers co-founder/co-artistic director Gary Keegan says of the play.

“How without it the human race wouldn’t have developed the way it has. We’re also quite sceptical of the brand of nationalism that seems to be present in certain pockets of Western Europe, especially in a post-Brexit, Trumpian universe; that’s something we’re quite suspicious of. This engagement in a sort of dog-whistling politics around the supremacy and superiority of white people.

“So we’re taking aim at these points of view that we are not in favour of.”

‘This Beach’ is a cutting satireand tells of a European family who must decide how to deal with a stranger who washes up on their privately owned beach during a wedding ceremony.

Keegan says the project, originally commissioned by the Munich Kammerspiele, was the product of a meeting with a refugee theatre group in Germany which prompted the company to question the purpose of what they were about to write.

“We were far removed from their experiences and we felt it would be inappropriate to come in and impose our ideas upon their trauma, to make them trawl up all that stuff,” he explains thoughtfully.

“We were asked by one the guys there ‘why are you doing this?’ – and we really didn’t have a good enough answer.

“We concluded that it would be better to write a piece that was based on our own experiences as Western European men, our experiences of the racism, xenophobia and right wing politics that are happening in the world.

“So we set about writing a piece that was essentially a satire of the politics of the right, of this ingrained fear of invasion that has come to the surface in recent years within Europe and the West.”

Whether it is their intention or not, art and politics have always been linked. Consider Bob Dylan performing ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’ during the 1963 March on Washington in the era of the American civil rights movement. Or even the class divide which was part of the Blur v Oasis Britpop-era rivalry in Britain in the ‘90s.

Keegan, however, is hesitant to portray ‘This Beach’ as anything more than an art piece, a representation of a point of view.

“You know, we’re not politicians, we’re artists. We’re responding to something that we have experienced in the last few years. The place we’re coming from is to highlight a certain type of hypocrisy that exists, a certain type of attitude where people believe that their way of live is somehow under threat by foreigners, which we don’t agree with.”

Nevertheless, he says, the success of any form of art in getting a reaction remains its greatest privilege.

“I think that everything that we do as a company, as any artist should do really, should provoke some sort of a reaction. I would like if the piece was challenged, either in the media or on the night,” he admits. “That would be interesting. But I don’t think the piece is necessarily a pro-immigration polemic, it’s more a comment on a certain hypocrisy and ignorance that people of privilege.”

Keegan says another point from the play is to challenge the notion that, as westerners, we are immune from the threat of becoming migrants.

“It only takes a natural disaster coupled with political instability to cause a refugee crisis anywhere in the world. No one is really immune, and we’ve seen that throughout history.”

In such a quickly changing world, taking aim at such parochial thinking is surely to be welcomed. “In a way, the beach is a metaphor for nationhood, demonstrated when one character asks ‘how can you own a beach?’ It’s wrong-headed, as an individual or a nation, the idea that you can only have whoever’s there and everyone else must be shut out.”

‘This Beach’ runs in The Everyman Theatre from 27-29 November. Tickets are €20 and are available on the Everyman website.

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