How will Britain’s planned departure from the European Union affect arts and culture? This was the subject of ‘Brexit on Page and Stage’, a special event held on 22 November at the Square Tower in Old Portsmouth.
Audience members arriving at the venue, which had been specially decked out in Union Jack and EU flags, were first invited to engage with an interactive performance by the London-based group, There There. Either individually or in small groups, participants were led to a table where they were given headsets, and had their palms read by performers dressed in David Cameron and Theresa May masks. The recording played through the headset provided a series of satirical guidelines for individuals seeking post-EU ‘settled status’ in Britain. It was in equal parts amusing and disturbing, and neatly highlighted some of the hurdles that EU and non-EU citizens who want to reside in the UK can anticipate in the future.
The next part of the evening was an interview with the Liberal Democrat Councillor and City Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, Steve Pitt. Steve emphasised the potential for Britain’s departure from the EU to ‘stifle creativity and freedom of expression’ by making partnerships with European performers and institutions harder to manage. He also stressed the importance of the EU for the Arts (a third of all cultural institutions have received funding from the EU) and the key role that the Arts play in Portsmouth life (more than 13,000 people work in culture and the creative industries).
The musical Hamilton was the focus for a talk by Ben Macpherson, a Principal Lecturer in Musical Theatre at the University. Ben explored the contrasting reactions of American and British audiences to Hamilton and outlined some compelling parallels between contemporary Britain and the eighteenth-century Britain represented in Hamilton. The Brits of Hamilton, he noted are: ‘impetuous, somehow smaller than they once were, and completely flummoxed by the actions of those around them.’
The event concluded with a panel discussion featuring academics from the University of Portsmouth Christine Berberich and Claire Perry) and the performance artists Bojana Janković and Dana Olărescu from There There, as well as contributions from the audience. Key topics included: the future of museums in post-Brexit Britain; the failure of any modern authors to produce a good Brexit novel; the potential future border controls will pose for musicians and artists; and the resilience of the arts in times of political upheaval.
Did the evening provide any definite answers about the future of the arts in Britain? Probably not. Nevertheless, it was a useful, well-informed and companionable discussion about the challenges that lie ahead.
‘Brexit on Page and Stage’ was part of ‘Being Human’, the annual nationwide festival of the Humanities.