By: Sara Lamerton, TRP Reviewer
When someone chants “Oggy Oggy Oggy”, my Westcountry instincts kick in and I retort with “Oi Oi Oi”. Sure, I might die a little inside, but I still embrace it with gusto. Similarly, when indulging in a cream tea, my Devonian tribalism takes over. Cream first, I indignantly mutter whilst preparing myself for the inevitable battle. However, if like last night, that action resulted in being segregated, would I continue to cling doggidly to an identity or would I relinquish to be accepted?
Following a work in progress tour across Cornwall, Help! I Think I’m A Nationalist, written and performed by Seamas Carey, directed by Agnieszka Blonska, has paid the extortionate £2.60 Tamar Bridge toll and set off on a journey across the UK, stopping in Plymouth for three nights.
Help! took shape after Seamas became increasingly frustrated by events throughout lockdown. Curious about the issues simmering around him, a ten-episode “Art’s Council funded therapy” podcast, inspired by conversations with people affected by the show’s themes, was born. Now Help! has evolved into a live performance full of laughs, tonnes of audience interaction, honest dialogue, uncomfortable questions, and overflowing Cornish-Celtic passion.
Interactive and authentic from the outset, Seamas invites the audience to consider what Nationalism means to them. Admittedly, the word makes me uncomfortable. I don’t associate many real positives with it. I certainly don’t believe I’m overly patriotic or cling to an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality. However, Help! expertly highlights how we all, to varying degrees, hold values, opinions, and sometimes use language that breeds separatism.
Seamas’ loveable style is perfectly nuanced. Oscillating between a regular guy simply talking about Cornwall, encouraging a collective sing-along, teaching snippets of a forgotten language, and retelling stories of a rich history and proud identity; to a bloke stripping down to his Cornish-pants, donning Cornish-tartan, and becoming increasingly unhinged with each rant and rave. Although hilarious, there is a powerful message behind these embittered scenes. Mindsets, whilst seemingly harmless on the surface, fester into something far more poisonous: dehumanising rhetoric mutates into divisive politics with potentially tragic consequences.
As close neighbours, Plymouth’s relationship with Cornwall is an interesting one. The ‘other’ mentality extends to a piece of land just 20 minutes away from where us Janners live. I’d also bet, like myself, many people at the show last night have Cornish roots. Yet we increasingly turn a blind eye to the issues and struggles that our nearest and dearest encounter. Granted, it’s not just Cornwall who faces these problems. Many of the themes and concerns Seamas conveys are relatable all over the globe: affordable housing, fear of others, anger and resentment at being overlooked, pigeonholing people on stereotypes and assumptions. The list is endless.
Whilst fiercely passionate and proud of the beautiful, rugged region at the end of our country, Help! is not a call to become more segregated or harsh towards key-working, dry-robe-wearing wild swimmers eating at Rick Stein’s and “enjoying” Padstow two months a year. Yet it does encourage us to ponder important questions about how we see and treat one another; how we support local economies without imposing bland interior designs on them; how we thrive for who we are. Yes, even those who put the cream on the wrong way around.
Showing in The Drum until Wednesday 8th March, there’s still time to grab your ticket for this refreshingly local show. Top Tip: sit at the front for an extra delicious surprise!