Review: Hiding Heidi (A Tale of Love and Hate in Stoke on Trent)
Image: Etcetera Theatre
Siobhan Ward - Heidi
Richard de Lisle - Ralph
Maxine Howard - Dorothy
Kate Carthy - Maureen & Mrs Little
Heidi loves living in England.
She loves her English friends, the countryside, the culture and most of all she loves her work as a nurse at the local hospital.
She's made her life in England but a dark cloud is looming as Heidi loses her job and is threatened with immediate deportation.
Will she be captured by the sinister Immigration Office with its huge network of informers?
Will she find somewhere to hide?
Will she even find love amidst the hate and intolerance of post Brexit Britain?
This is the first play I've seen, since the 2016 EU referendum, that focuses on life in the UK after Brexit.
I suspect it won't be the last, not least because the effects and consequences of Brexit are likely to be profound.
Well, actually, none of us really know whether the effects will be profound or not until they actually materialise - at present, any description of life in post-Brexit Britain is speculation as is this dramatic prediction from Golden Age Theatre Company, written by Ian Dixon Potter.
The set-up here is that Heidi is an EU citizen who has been working in the UK - but for less than the specified 5 years which the (post-Brexit) law defines as giving right to remain in the UK.
Dorothy is a senior citizen who lives with her unmarried son, Ralph, who is trying to find a carer for his mother, but the family are not allowed to employ someone from overseas if the job can be done by a UK citizen.
Kate Carthy (left) as Maureen, Maxine Howard as Dorothy
When they come across Heidi, and without any other likely candidate available, they opt to employ her illegally.
That forces them to consider what they will do if anyone - particularly the dreaded immigration officers - should fetch-up at their home.
That's where the "hiding" aspect of the title comes in, and Ralph and Dorothy find themselves adopting the techniques of Catholic families back in Elizabethan times, to hide their illegal employee.
The play paints a grim and bleak picture of both uncaring officialdom and ordinary citizens in post-Brexit "Little England", where unfettered bureaucracy and legions of citizen informants join forces against illegal immigrants to remove them from these hallowed shores.
But there's more ... bosses, now unrestrained by EU laws, are on the make getting richer and richer, while workers are "on the bread line" without the protection of EU laws to govern their employment.
And even our sacred foreign holidays have to be consigned to the dustbin of history as prices abroad sky-rocket, and vacationing in Blackpool seems the only alternative.
Heidi provides a glimpse of social attitudes saying of residents of an idyllic English village that they "live in beautiful places, but their opinions are ugly".
Dorothy has similarly low opinions of her neighbours describing them as "common", and Heidi pitches in adding that Brexiteers were "misguided" and claiming many are inspired by prejudice and hatred.
Ralph deplores the Daily Mail's "drip, drip messages of bile and hatred".
Muslims come under adverse scrutiny from neighbour Maureen and even families get it in the neck from remainer Ralph who deplores the use of "Baby on board" labels.
The Poles have all gone home, taking their building expertise with them, and leaving householders the only option but to use indolent, home-grown artisans in their stead.
And a popular TV programme is "The Great British Shake-off" in which the audience sees EU rules and regs being ceremoniously and joyously discarded.
Richard de Lisle (Ralph) and Siobhan Ward (Heidi)
I found myself wondering if this play was anti-Brexit, or whether it was merely satirising the picture painted by some commentators on the nature of the post-Brexit British society.
There are certainly deliberate attempts at comedy - much of it is rather lame, though there is one humorous gag about carbon dating.
The dialogue is derivative being a collation of many well-worn phrases, and some scenes - like the drill for hiding Heidi - prove tediously laboured.
Some aspects of the piece are predictable, and that all makes for confusion about the play's real stance.
Dorothy is painted as a stereotypical, right-wing senior who gets words confused - like Benadryl and Benidorm - and has rather negative views of both her neighbours and society in general.
In the end, though, she seems to be fairly easily won-round, claiming that she didn't really know what would happen after Brexit when she voted to leave in the referendum.
Her son, Ralph, claims to have been impoverished by Brexit yet swills-down copious quantities of whisky, and shows his own prejudices in attacking people who have children.
Since we still live in a free democracy (at least for now) Ian Dixon Potter has a perfect right to discuss important issues such as this.
In fact, it's actually essential that theatre uses its effective microscope to examine these matters to promote discussion which yet might influence the outcomes of negotiations in Brussels and how our society moves forward after we leave the EU.
But this play rakes over the coals, tells us nothing new, opens no new vistas on the subject, nor offers any remedies to our post-Brexit dilemmas.
In fact, it actually bogs us down in the murky waters of unsubstantiated generalisations, recrimination and bigotry when we actually need to develop a clear vision of how our future will look and the kind of society we want to live in.
[Production photography courtesy of Golden Age Theatre Company]
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