Interrogating The Nature Of Citizenship With Immersive Art

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that a monumental event occurred which shook the UK to its core, divided communities and severed relationships. 

No, I’m not referring to the Great British Bake Off’s shift to Channel 4 but rather Brexit. 

Ah, Brexit, I seem to have spent much of my time in post-Brexit Britain considering my future, my political beliefs and the beliefs of those around me, my role in society and how much impact I can have in changing the world. It appears I am not alone. Little Soldier Productions have taken these feelings of disempowerment, confusion and anger alongside a desire for action and personal engagement and created Derailed, the latest production from this innovative, exciting theatre company.

"It’s a very anarchic show”

Following the Santiago de Compostela derailment in 2013, Little Soldier production members Patricia Rodríguez and Mercè Ribot began to consider the nature of accountability and the power we, as members of the public, have to change the world around us. During the development of Derailed, Brexit happened. As momentous an event as this couldn’t fail to impact the work of Patricia and Mercè, as Spanish artists living in the UK. This led to a period of introspection, concerns about the permanence of their lives in post-Brexit Britain and the future of Little Soldiers Productions. 

It was then that they built on the original idea of Derailed and increased the scope of their initial questions about responsibility, power and engagement. As Patricia says, “After a decade in the UK, a country we feel very much part of, and particularly after Brexit, we are more than ever aware of our roots as foreigners and our role as women running a theatre company. We want to make theatre which reflects our passion and desire to contribute to the place where we live but is also capable of interrogating it.” 

 Derailed includes the audience in everything

This need to interrogate the nature of citizenship and belonging is sensitively managed by Mercè and Patricia who acknowledge the delicate balance between encouraging people to think critically and alienating their audience. The challenge inherent in discussing politics in an engaging way is met admirably by the pair. They have chosen to include an autobiographical element to the piece and so share their personal experiences of activism, concerns about whether they are able to do enough, and whether they are engaged enough in the world around them. 

“We want people to come out of the theatre feeling energised”

Derailed is a decidedly immersive piece and the audience is as pivotal to the production as the actors themselves. As Patricia points out “you want to do shows that are interactive but not too aggressive” and so the challenge here is to balance a desire for empowerment and a call to arms with an entertaining, engaging piece of art. To do so, Derailed includes the audience in everything, from asking audience members to help make gazpacho to dancing and drinking and general revelry alongside pig costumes, live rock music, and cava with a dash of the Dalai Lama thrown in. 

It is clear from speaking to Patricia and Mercè that the central aim of this piece is to empower the audience into action and to start conversations and debates about life and society, particularly our political future and the need to turn negative feelings into positive action, at local and national levels. As Mercè says “in Derailed we tap into some difficult and current questions about what it means to live in the UK”. This includes the need to challenge British society in any way possible, through engagement in activism to thought provoking debate and making a difference to our own communities.

“Exciting and scary and full of surprises”

The audience is crucial to the success of Derailed and this adds an exciting, yet nerve wracking frisson to each performance as the unpredictable nature of different audiences leads to wildly different outcomes, sometimes joyous and raucous, sometimes reflective and pensive and it is down to the Little Soldier team to ride the crest of an unpredictable wave. It is a testament to their skill that Derailed is so fluctuating and malleable, there are not many performers willing to be held at the mercy of their audience and this bravery is empowering. It also speaks to the wider focus of Derailed, the need for connection and closeness in a world which feels tumultuous and difficult to navigate.

“Are we really doing something?”

Clicktivism often derided for increasing apathy rather than promoting a desire to impact change, is also a focus of this piece. The dichotomy between the engagement and the apathy of clicktivism is eloquently summarised by Mercè who acknowledges the importance of social media in raising awareness but also expresses concern about the instant gratification of the Facebook share or the ease of signing an online petition which can lead to apathetic responses to real world activism. 

productions that push the boundaries of theatre

To draw attention to this audience members are asked to write down what makes them angry and then encouraged to sign an online petition as part of the show. This highlights the ease of online activism, the instant gratification involved and, hopefully, encourages the audience to think more deeply about their engagement with clicktivism and how this may not translate into offline action. 

“The most important thing is our team”

Founded in 2010 by Patricia, Little Soldier Productions began as a one woman show. In 2012 Mercè joined and the pair has never looked back. It is clear that Little Soldier Productions is a labour of love and each production takes the team in a new direction, from dementia in their first collaboration You and Me, to clowning and physical comedy in The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha and now to activism in Derailed. 

The organic nature of this process is the driving force behind Little Soldier as is the relationship between the team members for each production. This fluid working style coupled with a talented team of individuals, each with distinct strengths, leads to productions that push the boundaries of theatre and engage the audience in new and exciting ways. 

This commitment to the production of innovative, entertaining and thought-provoking theatre has not gone unnoticed and Little Soldier Productions have received critical acclaim for both The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (Stage Award 2014) and You and Me (Argus Angel 2013). The company has toured extensively across the globe, from Mexico to Poland, as well as in their native Spain and the UK. 

Alongside their productions, Little Soldier also hold workshops inspired by their work, from clowning as part of workshops delivered alongside performances of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha to workshops focused on ways to make a real, tangible difference to the world alongside Derailed. Patricia and Mercè have demonstrated a talent for improvisation in earlier productions which is highlighted in breathless relief in Derailed, where the boundary between audience and actor is essentially non-existent and thus each show is unpredictable, owing as much to the audience as the actors and production team.

“The audience is everything”

Derailed is a passionate and thought-provoking piece of theatre from a team dedicated to audience engagement and empowerment. Humour and rambunctiousness combine with political and social outrage to encourage conversation, introspection and a call to arms for everyone who feels disempowered, frustrated or unheard in the world today. 

Derailed is showing at the National Theatre from 4th to 6th of August and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and further tour dates visit Little Soldier Productions.

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