All over the world, in Trump’s America, Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Johnson’s Britain, societies have become polarised. Families have found themselves at odds with each other and friendships have been strained. So loaded are emotions on both sides that it takes a brave sort of playwright to enter this territory. Even if you don’t alienate half your audience, what more can be said that hasn’t been hammered out endlessly on Question Time?
Actor and writer Matthew Greenhough reckons he’s up to the task and, in this punchily performed monologue, tries to get to grips with the economic and political shifts that have created those two newly defined groups, the left-behind leavers and the metropolitan elite remainers. He embodies the national schism in the form of two school friends, Greeny and Stevo, second-generation working-class punks who, now in their late 20s, have grown politically and geographically apart.
Both have their roots in rock’n’roll rebellion, but where one has embraced the egalitarian values of the left, the other has been persuaded by the isolationist politics of the right. Staying in his Sheffield home, Stevo is the one to accept the improbable idea that conservatism is the new punk rock. For him, the anarchic spirit of his snotty adolescence with all its kicking against authority has become the reactionary politics of the disaffected, a philosophy that paradoxically favours authority.
As his surname suggests, Greenhough’s sympathies are with the metropolitan Greeny. He is no more one of the elite than he ever was, but he has embraced the inclusive values of the capital. Even so, he takes care to show the logical thinking that sends Stevo on his rightward journey. The connection between the raucous behaviour of a rock gig and the yobbish support of Tommy Robinson (aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) is not hard to make, especially when economic depravation is thrown into the mix.
Directed by Jonny Kelly for Wound Up Theatre, with Steven Wright reworking punk standards on his jazz trumpet, the play is a tautly written study of the unifying capacity of music and the destructive capacity of a toxic political debate. Performed by Greenhough with urgent intensity on a stage strewn with vinyl records, the play is as vigorous as it is topical.