Off the Page, The Guardian’s series of ‘microplays’, are all under ten minutes long, each focusing on a topical or political, though sometimes ill-defined, British socio-economic issue. The framing of them under the banner of theatre seems both unnecessary – they are, after all, simply short-form video – and novel; one presumes that this format-merging was as much for accessibility as for a Brechtian impulse to detach the viewer from their ‘suspension of disbelief’ to provoke a verfremdungseffekt.
My impression has been mixed. While each is well made and relevant in its way, some of these videos immediately evoke the stereotype of the “Guardian-reader’s delight”.
School Gate, for example, plonks two middle-class white Mums in front of neighbouring school signage reading Magna Carta Primary (NB: it’s the English school) and Wisdom Primary. The latter is of course the Muslim school, in which the enlightened Mum is totally cool with her white British daughter wearing the hijab as a school uniform, and staying behind for after-school prayer, even though we are to assume that their family aren’t Muslim…
Similarly, PPE’s performative ‘politicians’ repeating humanoid gestures rings true but obvious, and ends with a sweet, innocent child (read: not politician) running around to incredibly annoying music. These reductions just don’t have the nuance to speak at the volumes they believe they are.
Saying that, Britain Isn’t Eating and Death of England fare much better at brief but telling exploration of a single issue (food poverty and national identity, respectively). Not only due to performances by the ever-watchable Katherine Parkinson and Rafe Spall, but also because their monologues and characters leave much more to the imagination. The chaos and unresolved pain that follows Spall’s tirade and Parkinson’s ignorance rang far truer for me than any of the other ‘messages’ in the series.