Reminiscent of Last Night of the Proms, the blaring tune of ‘Rule Britannia’ opens Madeline Shann’s Here’s Looking At UKIP. Decked out as a stark white embodiment of Britannia herself, she is as roused as a Proms’ audience in patriotic fervour. Behind her a screen displays karaoke lyrics for the song, alongside a slideshow combining images stereotypical of British pride in full force — stark snapshots of the worst of our colonial violence. The audience feels uncomfortable singing along with the chorus. I can’t blame them when the overly pompous patriotism hits this hard.
Despite the title, Shann explains to us this show is not really about UKIP, but about the racist sentiment that has lingered in this country long before the political party. Her show aims to confront a surprisingly common opinion amongst British people that “some people may be racist, but the country as a whole isn’t racist”.
The performance is structured as a collection of emblematic scenes in which Shann confronts and dismantles our patriotic self-image. A cheesy game-show segment critiques such notions as national figures and anglo-centric morality. She also employs music and song-writing throughout her show: a cunningly executed rap about the English language demonstrates her dexterous employment of words, whilst a song about cognitive dissonance plays on its musical connotations very effectively.
Interspersed between these skits, we hear the voices from prominent members of extreme nationalist groups – in particular, a clip from the notorious outspoken ex-UKIP member Roseanne Duncan unmasks the latent bigotry behind the respectable façade of the party which dresses up hatred of foreigners as mere patriotism.
At times the performance loses some of its narrative momentum and focus, falling into repetition or overstressing ideas. But these are still early days for the show, much of which can be refined with rehearsal. Shann does well to disturb and deconstruct our preconceived notions of the country and to expose patriotism as a cover for toxic intent.
Featured Image Credit: Madeline Shann