Avignon Off Festival, France
ON Bastille Day on Saturday, a quiet revolution was taking place in France. On the lavender-scented, cicada-soundtracked alley that leads to the Pont d’Avignon (of high school French fame), one of only seven English-language shows was being performed at the Avignon Off festival. And it was the only one about the EU-schisming Brexit — astonishing given that Avignon Off is the biggest arts festival in France, with 1,000s of shows.
It’s the creation of Italian Tom Corradini and Hertfordshire-born Sam Toye, who hope to conquer more European theatres and schools with it, as they have done in Italy (where they host revealing post-show Q&As — they’re off to a school in Alès next).
They play father and son Charles and Eric, a wearily pragmatic Leaver and a frustrated, idealistic Remainer attempting to settle their differences before casting their historic vote. Their combat is presented simply in this hour-long comic two-hander, with few props and an uncomplicated script geared towards people of intermediate-level English (who will also appreciate the useful interludes detailing British empire-building and democratic history, dating right back to the Magna Carta).
But for all its simplicity, this is not a show without nuance: because Corradini and Toye deliberately play a straight bat with the politics, the older Leaver is not simply brushed off as a racist idiot (in contrast, the Remainer is occasionally framed as hypocritical and dismissive); there’s a careful consideration of the difference between liberty and freedom; and the wistful dance towards the end couldn’t have summed up the referendum furore better or more delicately.
There’s also a human drama underpinning this, one that deigns to suggest that the things that unify us are more important than the things that divide. The odd clunk and mark-missing digression aside, this noble little show — which is at its heart about freedom of all kinds — could not have taken a run at the barricades at a better time.