This week there were two pretty heartwarming and positive stories which highlight the way in which the arts can make such a valuable contribution towards bridging gaps in understanding and encouraging debate.
At the National Theatre on Tuesday a very special show opened. Entitled My Country: A
Work in Progress it is the brainchild of the NT’s artistic director Rufus Norris. In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote last June, upset by the outcome and dismayed at the prevailing divisive mood, Norris got in touch with ten writers and directors from all over the country – including Rhiannon White, co-artistic director of Bradfordbased political theatre company Common Wealth – and asked them to record extended interviews with people, on both sides of the argument, about their feelings about the referendum vote. The resulting play, written with Carol Ann Duffy, aims to shed some light on how the country has arrived at this point and try to shift people from their entrenched, polarised positions, convinced they are right and refusing to listen to opposing views. In a piece in the Guardian White said that she hopes audiences will “go in and listen, without judgment, with a desire to understand.” After a short run at at the NT’s Dorfman Theatre, the play moves to the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and then tours the country.
Nearer to home the West Yorkshire Playhouse is leading the way in reaching out to those whose voices are unheard. They have long been at the forefront of work with older people – their Heydays creative programme for the over-55s has been going for nearly thirty years and they introduced the world’s first dementia friendly performance in 2014. On Monday the theatre announced that it had been awarded awarded £99,950 from Arts Council England National Lottery funding to produce a Festival of Theatre and Dementia. The Festival will be exploring the experience of living with dementia, opening up discussion and debate, challenging stereotypes and providing creative opportunities for older people whose lives are affected by dementia, collaborating with them as curators and performers.
Listening to their experiences and creating a forum in which they can share those with others gives a clear message that their views are of value. It must be a primary function of the arts, especially today, to aid communication which leads to greater understanding between disparate groups. It’s also crucial to give voice to those who are marginalised by mainstream society.
That way lies greater humanity – and harmony.
The resulting play aims
to shed some light on how the country has arrived at this point.