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New UK theater comedy dramatizes Brexit breakups

China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-08 11:08
An undated handout picture released by the Union Theatre on October 5, 2018 shows actors during a rehearsal for the play 'People Like Us' by columnist Julie Burchill and novelist Jane Robins. Friends shunned, lovers torn apart and emotions exploding: a new play running in London this month tackles the very personal divisions in British society caused by Brexit. [Photo/VCG]

LONDON - Friends shunned, lovers torn apart and emotions exploding: a new play running in London this month tackles the very personal divisions in British society caused by Brexit.

People Like Us, a tragicomedy by the columnist Julie Burchill and novelist Jane Robins, asks whether it is possible to stay friends with people who hold opposing views.

The play was sparked by what the Brexit-backing writers felt was a social outcasting of Leave voters by more vocal, self-righteous Remainers - particularly in the fervently pro-EU London artsy circles.

"It's what they call projection. Everything they accuse us of, they are: a small, monocultural clique," said Burchill, 59.

"They call us bigots - but they won't listen to us for a second. By projecting all their sins onto us, they are cleansed."

Robins, 60, said she was invited to several Christmas parties in 2016, six months after the Brexit vote - and avoided them all.

"I knew they would all be so miserable. Christmas wakes," she said. "Every single one was going to be Remainers moaning in despair - and they would look at me as the one to be blamed."

Burchill's stinging columns about Remainers' "pathetic petulance" and the social backlash aimed at Leavers chimed with Robins. The two met via a mutual friend - and set about penning a drama.

They found rich inspiration in the aftermath of the referendum.

The vote was bitterly contested and led to relationship breakdowns, friends falling out and even intergenerational conflict between Leave-voting children and Remain-voting parents.

People Like Us centers on five friends in a book group and takes place around the 2016 Brexit referendum.

It features pompous Ralph, his self-righteous French girlfriend Clemence, fence-sitting eternal optimist Will, judgmental minx Stacey and her no-nonsense, wine-guzzling friend Frances.

Ralph, Stacey and Will are old mates from Oxford University. Ralph, Clemence and Will are Remainers, while Stacey and Frances are Leavers.

The setting is Ralph's flat in Islington, the north London epicenter of right-on thinking.

The book group's first monthly meeting takes place just before the Brexit vote and tensions are beginning to stir.

But afterward, divisions surface and emotions boil over. The book group breaks up, each side unable to bear the other's attitude.

The play, which runs until Oct 20 at the 70-seat Union Theater, sold out before it opened - much to the writers' surprise.

Given the Remain-dominated atmosphere in the London arts world, they doubted the play would even get put on - and were prepared to stage it in the backroom of a pub.

Now the writers hope to transfer to a bigger London theater and take the play to the Brexit heartlands.

Robins said: "We really hope that people come who don't generally go to the theater because it's alienating for them."

Agence France - presse

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