The writer spoke to Love London Love Culture about This Restless State (playing at the Ovalhouse Theatre until 24 March) and the future of Europe…
Hi Danielle, could you tell me a bit more about what This Restless State is about?
This Restless State is a one-man show which explores ideas of identity, home and nationhood. It uses a blend of narrative storytelling, drama, and very theatrical and sound-led performance to tell the story of individual Europeans in different eras, as they struggle with the challenges of their generations.
How did the idea for the show come about?
Performer Jesse Fox and I had been wanting to work on something together for a while, and then around the time of Brexit he came to me with an idea about European identity. We ended up having a very early draft of the show on at Camden People’s Theatre’s ‘After the Referendum’ festival, which was a brilliant experience. Then, as we moved forward with the piece, it became less explicitly about Brexit, and more about the recurrent themes we’re seeing in our discourse at the moment – what do we mean when we talk about Britain, Europe, home, family? Can we understand the present moment better by learning from the past? Where do nostalgia and national or personal myth-making fit into our view of the future?
What would you say the main message of the play is?
At the heart of each of the three main narratives, our protagonists are wrestling with the specific political context they’re in – so Margot is grappling with the fall of the Berlin Wall and whether to go to the West, Jesse is dealing with our current housing crisis, and Galina is casting a vote in a One-Child policy referendum in 2052. But beyond that, there are constant and recurring themes which I think we all have to face as we come of age: What’s my place in the world? Can I, and should I, become a parent? What do I do about my own ageing parents? Where is home going to be? It’s easy to get mired in our everyday struggles, whether those are personal or just getting caught up in the political news cycle. But I hope this show offers the audience a chance to see things through a much wider lens. That can be bleak at times, but also potentially offers hope, or at least reminds us that we have the agency, as well as the responsibility, to try and shape the future we want.
For those who are considering coming along to see This Restless State what would you say the one reason for them to come along would be? We’ve assembled an incredible team on this project, from the director Jemima James to our fantastic sound designer Ella Walhstrom. I think the result is going to be an incredibly dynamic and formally inventive bit of storytelling, which won’t be quite like anything they’ve seen before.
How would you describe the play for potential audiences? As a one-man show which is really about many people – all the chance meetings and moments and decisions that led to the existence of the performer onstage, and all the people that might come from that one person in the future. As part of that, we’re thinking a lot about generations, and about how generations relate to one other – how we come of age and try to build the world we want, and how we try to pass that on to the next generation.
What insight into the future of Europe would you say This Restless State offers? We did a lot of big thinking at the start of the project about our 2052 section. Ultimately, we’ve imagined that the threads we’re seeing in 2018 – from the refugee crisis and the rise of the far right in Europe to rampant capitalism and our apathy towards climate change – are leading us to some pretty dark times. By 2052 however, the continent is starting to move past several years of conflict and disintegration, and to rebuild.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the production? In making the piece we’ve discovered some really fascinating ebbs and flows in how generations develop – from Margot in the GDR, who is made to feel like she has no agency or freedom and has to do everything for the collective good of her family and her state, to Jesse as a millennial in London with plenty of individual freedom but who is struggling to afford a home or imagine a future where he could ever have children, to Galina in 2052 who’s working to rebuild Europe after years of conflict at significant personal cost. In each story we found the tension between freedom and responsibility recurred again and again, whether that’s about your relationship to your nation, your parent, your child. I hope by examining the contemporary world through this longer lens we can offer the audience a new perspective, along with an exciting, dynamic piece of theatre.