Last month I went to see ‘Us Against Whatever’ a Karaoke Cabaret. Only knowing that the topic was on Brexit, I entered the theatre unsure of what to expect. Greeted with a wall of shimmering tinsel and the words ‘This will never not have happened’ as part of the backdrop; the stage held a band set, a table and secondary stage. Half full beer glasses sat on the table, as if I had walked into something already in motion, something already unfolding. Actors casually assembled in a range of costumes, with clown-like face paint and bright red lips. The narrator was the ringmaster of this circus act, introducing the characters and laying out the scene. It began with a jumble of voices as the actors spoke on top of each other, parodying the Brexit debate and indistinguishable noise of both sides trying to debate. But suddenly the discussion stopped, and the story took a turn.
‘We want to talk about us.’
It’s Brexit but not, because no one would sit through an entire production on Brexit, that just sounds torturous. Not about the political elite and parliament’s Brexit debate but our Brexit conversation; not what you see on the news but what you talk about around pub tables and on sofas. Set in Hull, a place heavily affected by austerity measures imposed by our current and previous government, we are introduced to Anna, her parents and best friend Steph who arrived in Hull from Poland to live with her brother. Taking us from 16-year old Anna, to her 20s and then 2016 for the referendum. Anna and Steph meet on the night Dean Windass scored ‘that goal’ for Hull City (if you know you know). Anna’s story really captured my attention, from her budding romance with Steph, to family trauma, of being a young adult still living in the same city you grew up in and finding an identity amidst financial and political uncertainty. Anna and Steph’s story captured the everyday realities of feeling unheard, marginalised and neglected in the North. It uplifted their voices and provided both sides of this story. Steph was facing the Leave campaigns contribution to the rise in hate crime and Anna is expressing the need for change and to finally be asked for her opinion by the government. Instead of an echo chamber we’re in a pub in Hull and listening to the people. With a lot of bad 2000’s pop, this story is about growing up with the complexities and nuances of Brexit.
The actors, especially the narrator, had electric stage presence, with humorous and sincere original music, the production kept your attention rapt for every minute. I don’t know how many jokes were planned but all landed, lending to the leads talent for comedic timing, using the audience’s reactions, or lack of, to include us in the story. The actors were versatile and talented, jumping from the drums, to the electric guitar, switching accents and language as well as singing. Translations of songs also came in Polish. The costumes were incredible, with a fabulous array of coat changes, especially when the whip came out. The play reached its climax as the results of the referendum were announced and ends on the song:
‘This will never not have happened.’
Us Against Whatever, a Karaoke Cabaret was performed at the Everyman Playhouse Theatre and will be playing at the Hull Truck Theatre from 27th March to 3rd April. Written by Mureen Lennon in collaboration with Nastazja Somers, music by James Frewer and directed by Paul Smith from Middle Child Theatre.