Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Early Days (Of a Better Nation) @ The Arches

I had to have the last word.

Early Days is not a play: it is a big role-playing game that gets the 'audience' to pretend that they are part of a 'unity' parliament, in the future, in the imaginary nation of Dacia. Divided into three competing groups, the 'audience' get to decide on the path that this country takes after a civil war. 

Quite who fought the civil war is unclear - there was this nasty dictator who got kicked out, and a vague 'world government' is offering aid. But the main event consists of people having a good old shout at each other, with the 'actors' noticeable in their enthusiasm for antagonistic positions.

I think I got the last word: after we decided where we'd spend Dacia's resources, there were a series of questions, gauging how the event had been experienced. The final question - who is going to vote in the upcoming (real life) elections - led to me sitting all by myself as the only 'no'. So I got to explain why I was sitting on the opposite side of the room to an 'audience' who had been practicing their shouting for the previous two hours.

Apart from giving me the chance to voice my anarchist objections to representative democracy (it is a commodification of activism, actually), Early Days was all about presenting an experience: how would you behave if you were in a position of political responsibility?

Apparently, I'd sit about on my arse and watch other people shriek. 

Early Days, in spite of the second act, which is performed in darkness, and the bonhomie of the actors, is tremendously earnest. It's good fun if you like pretending to be the victim of a civil war, or voicing pseudo-feminist systems of hierarchy. It seems to intend to say something about the difficulties of resolving conflict, or maybe something about the economic foundations of civil society. 

Matt Trueman has plenty to say about it. I don't. It sets up a situation that may or may not reflect the reality of a post-civil war society, encourages the audience to pretend that they have a stake in something, and asks the kind of questions I would ask my standard grade students after a role-play session. 

I actually wonder whether turning a situation which has been fairly familiar over the past century into a board game for theatre students is immoral. Encouraging an empathetic understanding of civil strife seems like a good idea, but encouraging people to pretend they lost their kids in a famine leaves a bad taste. 

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