Ever wondered what the cafe in Edinburgh’s Summerhall venue looks like after hours? Going to see The Populars is one way to find out. No chairs, no tables, an empty space with glorious wooden floor. A floor ready to be danced on. As we enter, the four performers are already dancing and they are definitely giving it their all. They need to – in this Fringe audience, I am one of seven and a lot rides on us giving them back as much as we can. I really want this to work, whatever this might turn out to be…
The Populars is a show which merges the love of dance (your regular, enjoying yourself dancing) and – wait for it – politics! Those two things I love! I love dancing and I love politics! They are both very complex and I love complexity!
As the show starts, and I begin to think about assumptions – because I am worried that I won’t get to sit down for the next hour and a bit. And on that day, on that night, I really need a sit down. Never mind, I say to myself, I need to make this work for them, for the cast who have been dancing for ten minutes now – and they are really giving it their all.
The first direct audience participation, and there is a lot of it – in fact there isn’t a bit without it – starts with a question. Is it cool to talk to you? I like that question, but then quickly we get into a deep territory of: Where are you from? And where is home?
As an immigrant, I have a complex relationship those questions and I love complex relationships but how it’s asked becomes everything.
I answer the question they ask me: Where is home? And as I answer, I think to myself: but that isn’t where I am from. And I ponder over that… I ponder how different these questions are for me at this point in time and how these notions of home are never stagnant, never straight forward, never easy to answer – and they change all the time because what is around me changes all the time.
In The Populars, what is around me changes all the time. I am placed within the room in many different semantic relationships. I am awfully close to some people, really far away from others, I am dancing on my own and with others, and I am observing. I listen. I listen to the words of the performers – words about loving a particular band, words about some European countries, words about people speaking and not speaking Welsh, words about voting Leave, random factual words about places in Europe, words about the pink pound, words about the economy, words I now can’t fully remember – but words, snippets, not entirely going anywhere, just going sideways somewhere; words about big subjects landing on that wooden floor and then danced on, danced around, but never picked up and properly unpicked.
Because it is complex stuff, these words, and they need space to land and sit in that space. They need breathing space and, like the performers who are still very much giving it their all, I want this to work so much. But I can’t see how it can, I can’t see how the complex notions of politics and Europe can sit comfortably in a dance-hall (or half-deserted cafe) – because it isn’t simple, it has never been simple and right now, in the summer of 2019 it is definitely so far from simple!
And perhaps that is the point here, the point of The Populars is that actually where Britain is sitting right now, isn’t that popular, it isn’t so cool. Are we – and I put myself in the ‘we’ right now – are we trying to just forget that this divisive nightmare is happening? The notions of Europe and Brexit can’t be easily danced off, danced away, despite giving it our all. For a moment I look around in this half-empty room with nice floors: Am I the only person who isn’t laughing here doing silly croissant moves, and is that because I am the only immigrant? Or it is because that is all there is left to do?