Tam Dean Burn on Dear Europe: 'There's a desire for artistic expressions that help counter the sense of hopelessness'

Tam Dean Burn on Dear Europe: 'There is a desire for artistic expressions that help counter the sense of helplessness and hopelessness'

NTS's special event presents brand new performances that respond to this significant time in Europe's history

In contrast to the British government, the National Theatre of Scotland has organised a Brexit event for 29 March: Dear Europe, a series of dramatic reflections on Europe arrives at SWG3 to mark what might have been the final day of the UK's membership of the EU. With familiar Scottish artists, including Tam Dean Burn, Nic Green and Alan McKendrick, offering their thoughts, Dear Europe captures a moment in history from a wide variety of perspectives.

Tam Dean Burn's work, Aquaculture Flagshipwreck, draws together the visions of romantic poet and agitator William Blake with the complexities of fisheries policies. Burn, a committed and passionate artist who has previously addressed matters as diverse as the political cartoonist Harry Horse and the children's author Julia Donaldson, has a reputation for a ferocious style and presence, never afraid to explore his beliefs in challenging productions that are emotive and cerebral.

'From speaking to people about Dear Europe,' he explains, 'there is a desire for artistic expressions that help counter the sense of helplessness and hopelessness. My contribution intends to be hard-hitting in a fun way, involving the audience in a way only theatre can.' Burn is certainly sensitive to the potential of theatre's immediacy: in a series of works staged at The Arches, once the home of experimental performance, he ranged across political and personal polemics. Aquaculture promises a similar dynamism and Burn never minces his words.

'You could say that Brexit is proof that referenda are potentially ridiculous ways to conduct politics: asking for binary answers to very complex questions. Brexit has been a farcical soap opera so far and none of the options offer hope for the societal change needed to deal with the huge problems we face,' he continues. Yet for all the outrage, he refuses to give up hope.'I am still optimistic that radical change from below across Europe can happen.'

If Aquaculture recalls the radical interventions of the explicitly political theatre of the 1980s – an updated agit-prop that demands change and speaks directly to power, other pieces in Dear Europe present a more angular approach. Alan McKendrick's Cadaver Police In Quest Of Aquatraz Exit continues the writer's collaboration with Glasgow's 'avant-psych' Smack Wizards, detailing the adventures of a fictional band as they try to become the first export of the now blockaded country.

Tam Dean Burn on Dear Europe: 'There is a desire for artistic expressions that help counter the sense of helplessness and hopelessness'

Leonie Rae Gasson

Death Becomes Us, created by Leonie Rae Gasson uses a choir to examine one of the themes of the Brexit campaign, but is not keen to claim this is explicitly polemical. 'I make work that is political but not Political,' she explains. 'Everything I make is an embodiment of the values I hold; from how I am making work to who I am working with. I'm interested in how we can already be in the world we want to create. But I don't think when audiences see my work they see a political commentary, I'm more interested in people than governments.'

Revolving around the notion of 'taking back control', Death Becomes Us 'looks at what on earth that could actually mean. Why are we so enticed by this idea of being in control of our destiny?' This slogan underpinned much of the campaigning for Brexit, possibly touching on personal feelings of insecurity but also speaking to more virulent spectres of anti-migrant paranoia. Gasson aims to question what lies beneath the catch-phrase.

'Is it control of ourselves or control of others that we crave?' she asks. 'I generally make work to a background of queer theoretical approaches and themes, and in when thinking about control I become most interested in exploring other ways of finding power and agency. Many people believe that to overturn a political system you have to assimilate, occupy the same structure and just change what is in it – but what if there was another way. What if chaos gave us more power than control?'

Over the past years, the spectacle of Brexit and the negotiations that followed the result of the referendum have taken up a strangely theatrical position within British politics, with the ensemble cast of MPs taking turns to play the wicked villain and heroic defenders of liberty, appealing to different groups of the audience and nation, but lacking the clear resolution that is so crucial to both tragedy and melodrama (for a comedy, it is remarkably low in humour or wit). The National Theatre of Scotland's artistic director Jackie Wylie recently reaffirmed her belief in theatre as a place for conversations about big ideas, and Dear Europe models a curation that includes multiple voices and perspectives: more of a catalyst or encouragement for further consideration than a definition explanation.

SWG3 (Galvanizers), Glasgow, Fri 29 Mar.

Dear Europe

Scottish artists come together to explore their relationship with Europe.

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