US AGAINST WHATEVER: COLLECTIVELY MARVELOUS
I wouldn’t label myself particularly vocally political. So, when I went to go and see Middle Child’s Karaoke Cabaret production of Us Against Whatever, I found myself surrounded by people who were – to the point of colour qualification. Despite how out of place I initially felt, it was when the MC said that the show was here to ‘p*** everyone off’ that I knew I was in for a good night. Plus – who doesn’t love drunk adults who are given free reign over karaoke and musical numbers that scream Rocky Horror?
The stage in the Liverpool Everyman contained a minimal set and only 6 actors, and so the production was deceptively complex. Actors played at least two characters throughout, four for the incredible vocal powerhouse that is Emma Thornett. From the off, her cabaret style carried intimate jokes, sly winks and, in true Rocky Horror style, musical magic. I struggle to fathom words to truly express the shock I felt when her lips let loose the voice inside her – I think it was something like ‘OH MY LIFE’, perhaps with an expletive, with the capital vibes but under my breath, of course.
The story follows a family from Hull from the day of the football game that was to get Hull City to the Premier League to the day of the Brexit Referendum. And in all those years, the audience are taken on a journey of loss, anger, aggression and change. The actors Edyta Budnik, who played Anna, the Polish immigrant, Josie Morley who played Steph, and Severine Howell-Meri who played Tara (Steph’s best friend), dealt with issues from death to lesbianism and really focused on the breakdown of relationships both generally and as a product of social and political differences. I did find myself wondering how typical this is outside of theatre; how often people cut ties for their own safety, for peace of mind, out of anger. I think, perhaps, it is a lot more common than we care to admit.
In the play, Steph, the daughter, and her mother Sheila, who is played by Thornett, both vote to leave the European Union. The reasoning is something like this: that previously, they had been invisible. Poor and invisible. And that the referendum was the first time, in Steph’s life at least, that she would be heard. Something she could have her own way. I think I speak for the entire auditorium and perhaps even further out when I say that that is naïve. Democracy has a funny way of giving voices to the voiceless. The character saw the referendum as a choice to make her voice heard but in reality her voice was never heard. It was never truly acknowledged. In simple terms, all that vote did, in this theatrical circumstance, was give more voice to those who seek to destroy peace and equality that so many have fought to make foundational to British society. Those who see superiority, those who see colour and race as worth-defining; those who fight on the wrong side of history.
Steph quickly learns that her vote is little more than a justification for systematized racism – Tara, played by Howell-Meri, is non-Caucasian and discusses with Steph, who is ignorant to the realities, the racial struggle she will endure as a product of Steph’s political choices. Likewise, Anna, a Polish woman seeking a degree-related job, as soon as the referendum results were released, feels the immediate effect of politically legitimised discrimination. Now I am well aware that many people voted to leave the EU based on researched and educated reasons, and their personal preference. After all, having the right to vote literally is being given the chance to vocalise personal beliefs. I rock with that. We love equality and we love democracy. But what this play serves to show is the darker tentacles that are at work under water, away from the eyes of the public. Tentacles that push to the surface old time xenophobia, racism, superiority complexes, violence and stereotypes. In a bar, a man, played by Joshua Meredith, spits on Anna simply because she is Polish. Steph does not defend her. And it is at this point that we see the crumbling of the goodness that had once been present. It is here we see worst of the effects of voting to leave.
We must bear in mind that this is a theatrical production. That the insight and evaluation of Brexit is not entire and, of course, has an agenda. This sounds ironically very similar to the nature of the political landscape existing outside of the theatre too. I personally have not been too caught up in the process – very much a ‘get it over with’ girl. So much back and forth had left me disillusioned. But this play has re-sparked an interest in political and social equality for all. It has made me think of it in terms my privileged, white woman perspective had not yet wholly considered. And I’m so glad I did.
Middle Child, in its creation of an important piece of creatively political theatre, plays with ignorance, self-doubt; self-assurance, racism, youth, the elderly, pain, loss. You name it and it was there in lights. With wacky makeup, dance numbers, truly incredible vocals, interval karaoke, but also and most importantly a poignant political message – be aware, be educated, be fair – my time at the Liverpool Everyman was immense fun, and like the other members of the audience, I think, I came away considering the brevity and weight of decisions we are given the power to make. Before you cast a vote – consider the effect of your opinions on your loved ones, your friends and, even more so, strangers. We are all just trying to live a life we’re happy with. Quite simply, we are all just trying to live.