Being European

I don’t really remember when I first started to feel European. Was it the first time I caught the Eurostar to Paris with my parents, when I remember going up the Eiffel Tower and, paradoxically, watching Ian McKellen play Richard III in an arthouse cinema? The school trip to Greece in year 12, where we visited Athens, Delphi and Epidaurus? Or my first ever job in professional theatre, the one which got me my Equity card, in which I spent twelve weeks bombing round Italy in an Opel Astra with two other recent graduates, on a theatre-in-education tour of secondary schools?

Last week, we had a full week’s worth of writing on Phone Home in London: bringing together me and Zodwa Nyoni from the UK; Yannis Kalavrianos and Eri Kyria from Greece and Michael Sommer from Germany (Nora Schüssler, the German dramaturg, unfortunately being unable to join us). We were all still a bit stunned from the referendum result, announced the previous Friday. Our initial conversations were all about the Brexit result, which no-one outside the UK seemed to have expected. Our colleagues from abroad were full of questions: how had it come about? And what exactly was going to happen now? I didn’t know what to tell them. I still don’t.

The writer’s room in action.

We could have done nothing but talk about the implications of Britain leaving the EU, but we have a show to make, and the questions we’re asking about migration, refugees and Europe are as pertinent as ever. We read through all the scenes we’d each written before the workshop; discussed rewrites; discarded some; combined others. A couple of times, the debate became heated as ideas were proposed then challenged; but it was always followed by laughter and a better idea emerging from the conversation. A dialectical method, I seemed to recall from something I’d read ages ago. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. A way of thinking that doesn’t hold on to entrenched positions, but instead sees the merit in a competing argument, bringing together alternative possibilities and allowing something new to be born. It feels important.

By Friday, we felt we had a running order that made sense, although it includes some scenes that haven’t been written yet. It’ll probably change before rehearsals, and then again several times actually during rehearsals. But that’s okay. It’s not quite a ‘devised’ show, this, but then it’s not quite an ‘authored’ one either. In some ways, we’re making up the processes as we go along, and that involves some friction too. My Greek and German colleagues are a little nervous about what they see as the short rehearsal period; I’m making jokes about not knowing what I’m going to do with my actors for six whole weeks. I hope they know I’m kidding. Then at the end of Friday, the rest of the gang leave, to their respective countries or in Zodwa’s case back up to Leeds, and we’re all alone with our laptops, redrafting, thinking, planning, until our rehearsal kick-off event in Athens in September.

One of the most important conversations of the last week was finding a short description for the project, something to bind all of our work together. Phone Home, we decided, is a show about ‘people who leave home, in order to find a home’. It makes me think of many people I know – my cousin who lives in France, my next-door neighbour who went to live in Poland, my friends’ parents who moved to the UK from all over the world, and my many friends and colleagues who weren’t born here, but have made London their home. This show, for me, is about them as much as it’s about the refugee crisis.

I think the reason I don’t remember a time when I thought of myself as European is because I always have; a sense of engagement with the world instilled in me by parents and teachers throughout my childhood in Europe’s most international city. But it’s only since beginning to work on this project that I’ve really started to think of myself as a ‘European artist’; separated from my colleagues on the continent by language, but joined by history, culture, and a desire to engage with the questions and challenges which affect us all. In lots of ways, this is a really tough time to be a British European. But it’s quite possible that it’s never been more important.