Opposition, A political play on words


“Radical, Political, Courageous” ***** What’s on Stage
“A one-woman embodiment of a political system in meltdown” **** The Skinny

Ever watched a politician answer a question that left you none the wiser? Have you seen them give the same non-answer over and over to a completely different set of questions? Do you read newspapers and quietly wonder what on earth they are on about?

You’re not alone. Award-winning writer and performer Hannah Silva delivers her own manifesto that satirises the meaningless twaddle and jargon of modern political language.

Blair’s bluster gets busted. Churchill butts in on Obama and Cameron’s Big Society gets sliced and diced with live twitter feeds, weather reports, rant and rhetoric. Expect questions, politics, satire. Don’t expect answers, just a creeping sense we are all being had.

Opposition is a solo theatre show I’ve been working on for the last year. It had a run at the recent Edinburgh Fringe where it received great reviews and was described by What’s on Stage as ‘radical, political, courageous’. I’m performing it on the 3rd May at Lincoln Drill Hall (while votes are being counted in the main space) and at Pulse festival on the 8th June.

The need to make Opposition was triggered by a lack of political knowledge and a lack of interest in politics. And anger about the fact that I had nothing to get angry about. Filling in my postal vote this week, I’m still angry that I can’t get excited about putting an X next to any of those names.

I began working on it around the time of the last election. I wanted to be able to vote for someone and something I believed in, but I struggled to decipher the implications of what the party leaders were saying. I wasn’t engaged in politics and listening to politicians wasn’t helping. I didn’t make Opposition out of a need to communicate my political views, I made it out of a need to acquire some political views.

I’d listen to Cameron talk about the ‘Big Society’ but be perplexed by what it really meant – of course I understood the words, the sentences, but I wasn’t sure what the implications of this ‘Big Idea’ would be. The piece started with a re-working of Cameron’s first speech in Liverpool following the election – 19th July 2010. Pulling around the speech, cutting it up and putting it back together slightly differently resulted in funny, absurd things, and it also exposed lines which are there in the original but hidden beneath the rhetoric. Other moments of the speech become just sound:

And yes
Cutting the
And yes
Cutting the nat
And yes
Cutting the
And yes

Cutting the cutting the cutting cutting the cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cutting cuttingcuttingcuttingcuttingcuttingcuttingcuttingcuttingcuttingcctctctctctct ctctcctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctctcYES!

Cutting the national deficit falls into that camp.
We’re happy about that.

In my version the line ‘Help themselves’ goes next to ‘We’re all in this together’. The climax…. ‘together we will build…’ (The Big Society)… to the dismay of ‘Cameron’,  comes out as ‘Er Ih Oh-ay-ih-ee’. ‘Responsibility’ and all words ending with ‘ity’ have a little ‘titty’ twitch on the end of them.

I started looking at how rhetoric has changed over the years; I compared Churchill’s use of language to current politicians, U.S politicians to U.K politicians.  Churchill’s speeches are full of metaphor and a rich vocabulary. In those speeches, vocabulary and rhetoric was constructed in order to convey meaning. Today’s politicians sometimes simplify their language and message to the point that it loses meaning completely:

Beggars Belief / No Holds Barred/ Full and Frank Discussions/ Feel good Factor/ Eye on the Ball / I’m not ruling anything in and I’m not ruling anything out / Knee Jerk Reaction / Elephant in the Room / Hearts and Minds / Lessons must be Learned / I can’t comment on Individual Cases / Doing Nothing is not An Option / Worst Case Scenario / Nightmare Scenario / Doomsday Scenario / No Comment

Before the audience enters the auditorium, they are given a name badges to wear with politicians’ names on them, and an accompanying quote. For instance you might get a name badge for Margaret Thatcher and a quote: ‘six inches of steel beneath the shoulder blades’.

Like a politician at a conference, I shake hands with the audience at the beginning and thank them for coming. At another point in the piece I come into the audience and work with the quotes. There’s a moment when we all chant slogans coming from Blair and Obama: Big/Boldest/Big/Boldest etc.

‘Big’ is a recurring motif in the work.

Blair: At our Best when at our Boldest.
Obama: We Do Big Things.

Cameron: My Big Idea, The Biggest Past Decade, My Big Passion, The Biggest Budget Deficit, A Big Bang Approach, The Big Reality, The Big Society.

In reviews of Opposition the use of repetition was picked up on and Damon Green’s interview with Ed Miliband on the public sector strikes was referenced. One of the physical images I’m working with is that the politician is a puppet, or a clown – a laughing clown. I play with Miliband’s broken record interview in the work:

‘The strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are still going on. The government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner but it is time for both sides to get around the negotiating table, put aside the rhetoric and stop this from happening again.’

This comes out as vowel and consonant sounds – a bit like beat-boxing. I repeat it at different pitches, layering it up using a loop pedal with the actual words only revealed at the end.

I have a twitter account for the show: @Oppositionsilva. The people I follow from that account are all in Opposition. At the end live Twitter feeds are projected and I improvise with them. Twitter asks ‘What’s Happening?’ – it’s a good question.

Today’s politicians talk in soundbites, they are careful to avoid saying anything, they rarely think on their feet (apart from when insulting each other in the House of Commons). They are incredibly, sometimes disturbingly repetitive. That’s part of what I’m playing with, alongside exploring the language and ripping apart the rhetoric for laughs.

Opposition plays with the language of politics and society, it asks – is there any substance behind the words or is it all a load of claptrap? I investigate that question through slicing and dicing political speeches, inflating gestures, and embodying a strange kind of politician/clown/puppet with a bit of a manic grin.

photo: Eileen Long

“Go to listen, marvel, participate. Go to be amazed. Just go”
***** What’s on Stage

“Yes there will be objections. But you know what? We’re happy about that” David Cameron.

Opposition tour:

3rd May: Lincoln Drill Hall, 8pm
8th June: New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, Pulse, 7pm

Further dates tba: http://hannahsilva.wordpress.com

Opposition was originally co-produced with The Barbican Theatre, Plymouth in association with Apples and Snakes. Re-developed in Residence at the Dartington Space with support from the Dartington Hall Trust. Funded by the Arts Council England and the Arts Unit, Plymouth City Council. 

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