The arts are my passion: drama, music, opera, dance, sculpture, painting, art history, architecture, film, literature... old and new... national and international... and after a period living, writing & performing in Australia and Italy this passion has brought me back to London. 'Blog Julie Arts' is a spin-off after success with 'There's Always A Story' at blogjulie.com

Saturday, 25 June 2016


I went to a play a few days ago at the Hampstead Theatre.  The title and the content seem fitting after what’s happened with the #EUReferendum.  The play is called WILD. 

WILD is a rather wonderful and expressive word.  I’ve used it myself in the title of an (as yet) unpublished manuscript because it boxes above its weight to conjure much.  Sit with it for just a moment: WILD.  Consider it in the wake of the mammoth decision made yesterday by the British people: WILD.  And if you are a ‘remain’ voter like me you’ll recognise in it how the future of Europe suddenly feels. 

WILD can be a freeing and positive idea, a brave and boundless concept, but sadly it is the negative, unshackled and ruthless qualities which come to mind in the Europe which has suddenly changed.   

The play, WILD, written by Mike Bartlett and directed by James MacDonald explores what happens when someone takes an action that leads to them being suddenly dislocated, isolated, confused and unsure who or what to trust. It explores the boundaries of truth and identity, justice and transparency, power and the misuse of it.  And though the play asks more questions than it answers (intellectually at least) it is a production which rings with emotional and human truth.  I loved it. It has lived with me since.  And the theatrical experience was all the greater because we didn’t know precisely what was going on, who the people really were, what was good or bad, virtuous or threatening – but rather all muddled together in an imperfect world, frighteningly on fast-forward because of the far-reaching impacts of social media, commercial and political surveillance. When the set did something amazing (won’t spoil it for you, but the clever designer is Miriam Buether) it was a perfect metaphor for the journey we’d just witnessed.  And since the terrible result of the referendum the image of that moving set is what now keeps coming to me – because I too feel like the character of Andrew thrust into an unknown future where the world no longer makes sense... like Alice through the Looking Glass... I feel completely unsure of my identity, and the identity and values of the country I have chosen to live in.

Until yesterday I was European.  Until yesterday I thought the majority of Britains believed in a connected world where we cared about our allies and neighbours, where we respected (and prioritised) the open and generous sharing of knowledge, art, travel, goods and services.  Until yesterday I felt deeply sure it was those values which kept Great Britain, great... a world leader, morally, culturally and financially. Until yesterday I thought Brits were tolerant, a people who cared about giving a helping hand to those in need, a nation who accepted a multi-cultural population was the only way to create peace and prosperity. Until yesterday I thought the British took pride in leading by example, in thinking not just of their own selfish fears or desires but in the principles of good citizenship and community.  Until yesterday I trusted in the dignity of Great Britain, in her vision, her courage, her inseparable bond with Europe – because that is what has brought us peace since WW11 as well as countless benefits from the price and quality of food on our plate, the goods we trade, to the medical and academic research we reply upon to improve the world and the artistic freedoms we need to make life worth living.  In all this I thought Britain was great.  And overnight that has gone.  Only days after smiling with pride at the Trooping of the Colour, the Union Jack has faded to a feeble shadow of itself. There is no United Kingdom.  The Great has gone from Britain.  And our identity is in tatters.

I will resist the urge to list the many reasons as to why the vote has come out as it has – and that actually it’s not a majority if not everyone votes, doh! - but I will say it is appalling how little conscience some of the ‘leave’ voters have about what they’ve actually done and what their vote represents as a statement of values (or lack of).  Who is more to blame, the leaders who fed the public misinformation for self-serving purposes... or the mindset of those who believed it?  But I make no apology for being appalled and distressed and I will not ‘get over it’ as some have suggested I should – even in the immediate twenty-four hours after the shocking result.  That only proves how shallow some reflection has been, how narrow some people's view, how poor their understanding of the possible ramifications of this decision.  (Not least the domino effect on other nations, especially Scotland and Ireland.)  And if you sense me getting mad as well as sad, you’re right – because it makes my blood boil to hear them massaging their own guilt with hollow platitudes about ‘unity’ and ‘moving forward together’.  What utter bullshit after acting to divide us.

I was born in London but I returned to live in Britain from a beautiful island with wonderful weather and immaculate beaches. But that island is greatly separated from most of the world and I chose to live in Europe specifically because I wanted to be a part of something bigger – with greater opportunities, a wider ranging vision, closer neighbours, diversity, and a vibrant social, political and artistic landscape.  So the conscious de-construction of Great Britain as decided yesterday in the EU Referendum has a direct impact on the way I feel about that choice and about what I do next. Those issues are emotional as well practical, because I won’t be able to move as freely between countries as I have been doing.  I will be forced to choose, to ‘settle’ before I am ready.  And my pound won’t be worth as much while I’m doing it.

But that isn’t really why I wanted to cry all day yesterday.  My grief is greatest because of the impact this decision will gradually have on all people, all our neighbouring countries, and on future generations.  My sadness and confusion is that I identified myself with values and institutions which will no longer exist.  I can’t feel confident about the leadership of Britain, I can’t feel self-esteem or pride in being a part of it – because I loathe the isolationist, right-wing message which the voters sent out to the world yesterday.  I can’t feel at home in a country which rejects migrants and refugees, and is so stupid to have fallen for the propaganda about “Brussels stealing our sovereignty”... and, I say this with shame, who have revealed themselves to be a people where racism brims beneath the surface, where ‘us’ and ‘them’ is intrinsic to their identity.  I cannot trust a government who demonises Europeans when actually what they should be doing – like all of us in any institution or system – is making a proper effort to reform from within.  And in the wake of whom the ‘leave voters’ have declared themselves to be... I don’t know who I am... my compass, my sense of identity and faith in my future in this country has been shattered. 

I only know I am not - will not – be one of those people who live their life blaming others for some mysterious perfect world that would exist if we “didn’t have to pay for European membership”.   I will not frame my life with ‘us’ and ‘them’,  or ‘me’ and ‘other’.  I will not adopt an isolationist, selfish attitude and ignore the needs or suffering of others – or, and here’s a bigger point,  take for granted the many gifts and benefits our partnership with Europe provides me every day I stand on this soil or cross a border and find myself welcomed.   If the values of Britain have really changed so much then it is time for a complete rethink. 

I am ashamed I was busy in recent weeks and presumed the Stronger In Campaign would win on its own merits.  It seems membership of the human race is not an automatic membership.  Nor is membership of a United Kingdom.  Birth rights and residence is not enough.  After a painful day of mourning (and many more to come) I am acutely conscious of how closely my identity and my presence in Europe aligns with certain values that can no longer be taken for granted.  And I should have done more to fight this de-construction. 

I need to say too that not all people who voted ‘out’ are unthinking or uncaring; of course not.  Not all ‘out’ voters are xenophobic or uninformed, some have genuine concerns about the size of the European Union and the problems for its administration.  But still the Leave Campaign’s sound-bites have driven a lot of people who are ill-informed and less thoughtful to make a decision which is going to have many negative effects in the future and limit the horizons (and possibly the humanity) of younger generations.  And God help us, in or out of the Union, we must stop the push to the extreme right in this country.

Going back to WILD, the play starts with an Edward Snowden character and an imagined depiction of what his first days might have been like after he made his (I believe) brave decision.  I have often thought about that young man and the sacrifice he made, and whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of sharing protected information (ironically, secret because it was information stored on all of us that the US government wasn’t supposed to have!) I have no doubt his motives were noble.  He made a conscious choice to try to change the world.  Or at least change how we think about it. What were people thinking when they went to the polling booths in Britain two days ago?  What were the leaders thinking who did their utmost to drive our electorate to the ideological right?  Do they care to see beyond their own little lives or ambitions?  Do they see how closely this mirrors the rise of all fascist nation-states?

It’s that realisation that is WILD.  Wild, sad and scary.

Thank you to the talented Jack Farthing (Andrew), Caoilfhionn Dunne (woman), John Mackay (man), as well as the wonderful Mike, James, Miriam and all the crew for something this week which makes sense and rewards us all for choosing to live in London, the cultural capital of theatre.  Please God the artistic sharing and openness artists need and value will not be destroyed by the outcome of this referendum.  Such a great city now at risk...

As we struggle to reform our identify, within Britain and across Europe, I have a sense we’re going to need the arts more than ever.





For the record, in countries such as Australia this referendum would never have passed:

1) Voting is not compulsory in the UK so a ¼ of Britain’s adult population (younger and older) didn’t make use of their ‘democratic’ right (aka responsibility). 
2) Because of 1) the result is arguably not a majority.
3) In many countries there needs to be a resounding majority for a referendum to change the constitution. For example, if you went by Australia’s rule of equal power to the states (in the UK read countries) then Scotland and Northern Ireland would have kept England and Wales decidedly IN the EU: To pass a referendum, the bill must ordinarily achieve a double majority: a majority of those voting nationwide, as well as separate majorities in a majority of states (i.e., 4 out of 6 states). In circumstances where a state is affected by a referendum then a majority of voters in that state must also agree to the change. This is often referred to as a "triple majority".  

That doesn’t stop anyone feeling awful about this result to LEAVE, but it does show how inevitably divisive and distressing this huge change is.  Indeed, at bottom, it should challenge Britain to reassess what is and isn’t ‘democratic’.