IN the days following last year’s Brexit vote, teams from the National Theatre and eight UK arts organisations got to work.
They spoke to people nationwide, from Leicester to Derry and Merthyr Tydfil to Glasgow, to hear their views on what was the highest ever turnout for a UK-wide referendum and the highest for any national vote since the 1992 General Election.
In a series of interviews, they heard opinions that were honest, emotional, funny – and sometimes extreme.
It is these testimonials which are interwoven with speeches from political leaders to create My Country – a new play by Britain’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and directed by the National Theatre’s artistic director Rufus Norris.
“It’s one of those plays where you don’t feel like an actor – you’re more of a custodian,” says Swansea-born Christian Patterson, who plays Cymru in the play which comes to Theatr Clwyd this week.
“Rufus and Carol Ann sent gatherers out to all parts of the country and they came back with hours and hours of recordings of people telling us why they voted the way they did.
“Each actor plays between eight and 12 of the characters, whose words are spoken verbatim. People say the funniest things – some areas have characters that are very comical.
“My son Dylan, who is 13, came to watch it and he absolutely loved it. He laughed all the way through it.”
Christian gives a voice to 11 different views with the responsibility of articulating their political beliefs proving an irresistible challenge for the actor whose previous work includes roles in hit movie Pride and ITV drama Mr Selfridge.
“It makes me feel mildly schizophrenic because I’m walking around with these 11 voices in my head. But at least I haven’t got to do Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage like Penny Layden, who plays Britannia, has.
“Thankfully, it’s a beautiful mish-mash of musical voices that takes you on the trapeze of Remain or Leave.”
The need and opportunity to create a piece of theatre that responds to that palpable sense of frustration and disillusionment in many parts of the country following Brexit has been the guiding principle for the cast and director. But, given how dynamic politics has been in the last 12 months, keeping up with current affairs has proved the real test.
“The play is constantly evolving,” says Christian.
“On the very last day we were at the National Theatre, the Westminster attack happened – and that put an angle on the play.
“Then Prime Minister Theresa May called a General Election and that put a new angle on it.
“We’ve also had Article 50 and now the Manchester bombing – it’s been insane and I think there are crazy times ahead.
“It will take two years minimum to thrash out a deal and that’s the weird thing about Brexit – we were basically voting about thin air because nobody can tell you with any certainty if we will be better or worse off.
“I don’t mind if Mrs May wants to be a ‘bloody difficult woman’ but please remember that this will affect all of our lives.”
Christian, who trained at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, starred at Theatr Clwyd in last year’s production of Insignificance by Terry Johnson.
In it, he played the Senator, a role based on the Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, infamous for his pursuit of a communist ‘Reds under the Beds’ conspiracy in America in the early 1950s.
His other credits at Theatr Clwyd include All My Sons, Aristocrats and As You Like It.
“I love this theatre and have been coming here for 20 years,” he says.
“Originally I wanted to be in the Welsh Guards – but then I learnt how to do Latin dance and I won cups and rosettes.
“I was a good tennis player too and played for Wales – but in the lead up to my GCSEs I discovered drama.”
Christian was awarded the ‘Best Actor’ honour at the Wales Theatre Awards in 2016 and his West End roles include Mr Bumble in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Lt Trotter in the hit production RC Sherriff’s Journey’s End at The Duke of York’s theatre and on a national tour.
“I joined the company here in 1997 and played Malvolio in Twelth Night which was a real highlight and for me. This is the best theatre of its kind in the country.
“The fact that everything that goes on stage is made in-house – whether it’s in the workshops or the rehearsal rooms – is unbelievable.
“You are all in the same boat and every time I drive up this hill and I see the theatre I get butterflies in my stomach.
“I can’t wait to come back and do Little Voice in September and then I’m off to panto in Stoke with my best mate Jonathan Wilkes.
“I’m playing Widow Twanky this year – I love dressing up above everything else!”
As the director hurries him up for a final rehearsal, I ask Christian why should people come and watch My Country.
“This play will never be staged again so it’s a bit of a once-in-a- lifetime experience,” he adds.
“Don’t miss out.”
My Country - a new play inspired by the recent EU Referendum by Rufus Norris in the words of people across the UK and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy – is at Theatr Clwyd – Emlyn Williams Theatre from Tuesday May 30 – Saturday June 3 at 7.45pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.45pm. Tickets: £25 - £16 concessions available from the Box Office on 01352 701569. For more, see www.theatrclwyd.com
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