So, the build up to the EU Referendum polling day just got interesting. The interminably dull campaigns were just injected with the type of razzmatazz that only the coming together of such fundamental elements as a Geldof and a Farage could provide. Yesterday, their mock recreation of The Battle of Trafalgar on the Thames, when Farage’s rust bucket flotilla came up hard against the slinky Abramoviccian grace of the Geldoffian yacht, was so marvellously entertaining, on so many levels, I can’t have been the only person watching to have found myself adjusting my slouch, rubbing my eyes and wondering what might have been.
This was theatre, pure and simple, in a campaign that has been paradoxically heavy on lies, insults, back-stabbing, Shakespearean politicking, and yet noticeably bereft of actual drama. So, full of the stuff of drama, without being at all dramatic.
But now we have pantomime, we have the oh-so-earnestness common to Historical Recreation Societies, and we have – my god, how “Little Englander” is this? – the spitting and biting you’d expect to find as two acrimonious neighbours argue over the width of their adjoining herbaceous border.
Farage of course is a clown, his entire political life an attempt to get back at the kids who bullied him for taking a briefcase to school. And Geldof is no more a spontaneous rebel than he is chairman for the national union of scarecrows – that is, it looks as though he might be, but on closer inspection you realise it’s just a look he’s going for. So, the perfect coming together for audiences, really, in this age of cheap confrontational celebrity television. Two media whores rolling around in the mud. Or in this case, bumping prows. (Please leave your euphemism-detectors at the door, thank you).
My only real disappointment yesterday is that it may have been a one-off. Although both like to market themselves as loose-canons, there is bound to be a word in the ear from both sides, a call for dignity and a bit of self-respect as the opposing campaigns revert to lying and name-calling.
But what an opportunity missed this now so obviously is. A chasmic hole appears before us where once great British satire would have flourished. Or not even satire – just some kind of artistic response to this most fateful of days. In Wales, probably more than any other part of the UK, we have developed a penchant (or at least the powers-that-be have) for huge glowing “events” that are supposed to be whipcracking beacons to the rest of the world displaying what we are capable of in artistic industries. But why nothing on this most important of matters? Well, I for one am hugely disappointed that nobody got to the “flotilla battle” idea before such old hacks as Farage and Geldof. It seems – and I hope I’m not speaking out of turn here – as if the whole thing was ready made for National Theatre Wales.
Picture yesterday’s pantomime with added thirty foot inflatable dragons, Michael Sheen beat-boxing “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” in a red and green spangly leotard, the Manic Street Preachers perched atop a fiery fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square doing a cover version of “Breaking Up is Hard To Do”, or some other punk classic.
This would not have been missed had John McGrath still been at the helm, I can assure you.
How about a week-long festival, each day a new Farage versus Europe mock battle recreation of the famous slaughters of European history? You could get in local school kids to play the dead. I’m sure the Tredegar House Historical Society would be up for joining in.
It could climax in a gaudy recreation of the Battle Waterloo, with Charlotte Church playing Angela Merkel playing Field Marshall Blucher, riding over the hill on horseback to save Farage’s neckless Wellington at the eleventh hour. You could have Napoleon played by a Romanian junior doctor.
There are countless battles to choose from. (All pre-European Union, of course, but don’t mention that to Nigel).
Agreed, Agincourt might be tough as Brexiteers struggle to reconcile their anti-thinking stance with the pro-brainy Shakesperean connotations of it all. And climate change-denying Farage might have a difficult time explaining how easy it is to recreate the Battle of the Bulge in Wales in mid-June. But I’m sure, with a week to go, NTW could have come up with seven battles?
And obviously, for many, the highlight would be the inevitable slapstick of Nigel Farage during the recreation of the Battle of Britain who, after shooting down his own wife’s Messerschmitt 109, hands victory to the Luftwaffe by refusing to allow any Polish fighter pilots to fly alongside the RAF.
It’s not just NTW’s responsibility, of course, to lend an artistic shoulder to the wheel. Welsh National Opera might have planned ahead for this. Anyone else fancy seeing Rebecca Evans deliver the world’s first libretto written in stammering half sentences as she plays Priti Patel in Brexit: The Opera? And TV? How about a Hinterland special, where two out of work actors investigate the disappearance of the professional film-making industry in a post-Brexit Wales, filmed entirely on pay-as-you-go smartphones?
But we have nothing. Where is Wales’ voice? In the mouths of our politicians? God help us! Where are our writers? We do like our posterboys here in Wales, but what do they count for when there is heavy lifting to be done? Where is our “Anthem for a Doomed Youth”? I’m afraid 100 signatures to Geraint Talfan Davies’ letter, to be waved like Neville Chamberlain on the tarmac of Roos airport as we watch Europe sail off into the distance, is a stagnant, measly response from the nation’s artistic community. Frankly, the only thing to rival the depressing imminence of a Welsh Leave vote, is that all the talent and power of Wales’ oft-lauded creative bigwigs has resulted in an autograph scrapbook, meant to symbolise a collective push back against the Brexit apocalypse that awaits us. I’m forced to put faith in pantomime, it seems.