The word Brexit became so commonly undesirable, scarily forbidden, like a name of Lord Vordemort from Harry Potter. For the last two years it’s been omnipresent in everyone’s minds; the media has been overexploiting it for their unhealthy propaganda, and opposite sides have been shouting out their fors and againsts without a deeper reflection on holistic meaning of Brexit. It seems like no one has courage to admit that both leavers and stayers make sense in their arguments.
I remember the time leading to referendum. Despite my ten year tax contribution to the British government, I didn’t have a right to vote. Okay, I thought, I get it, I am not a British citizen, although my whole existence in the UK become a question mark. Endless discussions at home with family, friends and neighbours… most English, who all of sudden felt circumfluent power of decision, of their long time pent up voices, made me see Brexit from a different to many angle. The most fascinating from the sociologist perspective was the opposition – masses vs. individuals. Often enough I heard: Magda, but it’s not about you, but about all these immigrant taking our benefits. Or my beloved mother in law: The referendum won’t help here. We should put all immigrants on ships and blow them up somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, but not you, Magda, you’re one of us.
Hull on the Brexit result announcement day was a very interesting place. People who work with my mum, danced in celebration asking surprisingly what she is still doing here. I, as a person working in the arts sector, got a courteous apology from my workmates, even those who support Tories. And so, on 24th June 2016 something broke – in us, in Brits, and in our mutual relationships. Like we forgot about friendships, love and humanity.
My grandmother always said: you should not talk about religion and politics. Maybe she was right, but I never had a tendency to listen to the elderly. If you don’t discuss issues, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Only through a debate we can understand the opposition.
When Middle Child Theatre asked me to become their embedded critic for the new production Us Against Whatever, I felt excitement indwell my body and mind. On Monday, 18th February, I went to meet the cast and artistic crew. I have to say: thank you for Poles, playing Poles, not Brits pretending awkwardly and stereotypically Eastern European accent. Like there are none Polish actors in the UK! Paul Smith, the director, invited to his team not only local actors Josie Morley and Joshua Meredith (both from Hull), but also Edyta Budnik, Adam Hadi (from Poland) and Emma Thorentt oraz Sèverine Howell-Meri (from London, but this is like another country).
I knew what the play will be about, but I didn’t read the whole script before. I sat in the rehearsal room and with every minute I was becoming more and more restless. I was shaking, and my mind was speeding faster than light, while analysing every word that was read. It reminded me so many absurd situations I was in since coming to England. Every so often I let out a quiet disdainful snort mixed with bitter memories.
Brexit is not only about political scramble or a fight over domination. Hmm, maybe for some, but… Brexit is primarily about ordinary people, their ever day reality, worries and hopes. Am I surprised that most of the working class had enough and wanted to take power in their hands? No. Am I shocked that so many voted to leave, after decades of economic degradation, especially since England opened their boarders to Eastern Europe, when they felt endangered in their work positions? No.
Hull seems to live in the past, repeatedly scratching the wounds of the declined fishing industry. Families, that for generations grafted in docks and on the trawlers, feel betrayed by their government, like dogs tied up to the tree and left to death in starvation. Am I really flabbergasted that 67.6% of Hull residents voted to leave? I am honestly not. It was a desperate scream for attention to their suffering and dissatisfaction. On the other side, do I feel for masses of immigrant who, like me, took a great risk and came here to find their Eden, but now are unwanted? Yes, I do.
Maureen Lennon in her script presents characters that voted for and against. But their motivation isn’t purely political, but rather emotional. Their arguments are so intensely crafted, that even if you don’t want to agree with them, you cannot not to. Or at least, if you don’t want to admit their value, you can understand their reasoning. I feel that this play will cause debates, maybe fiery disputes. But what’s the purpose of art that doesn’t make us feel anything? I always repeat that if I leave theatre and asked by someone how it was, I answer ‘okay’, it means the play didn’t ‘touch’ me. I doubt, I’ll say ‘okay’ on 29th March.