Having voted to leave the UK, a newly independent Cornwall runs into economic crisis; the EU's turned down a trade agreement, and border controls imposed by the UK begin to bite. The solution? Start a war with China, promptly surrender, then negotiate inward investment and preferential trade terms with the magnanimous victor. At least, that seemed to be the plot; it all became a bit confusing and silly, let down by crude stereotyping and overpowered by some genuinely funny slapstick.
The play is set up promisingly. The new president, Sam, is upright, proud, and dedicated to preserving what’s great about Cornwall; whereas Clive, the vice president, is shifty, slick and fluent in corporate-speak. The problems facing them are clear. Ejected from the EU and lacking trade agreements, they are unable to sell their only valuable commodity, the Cornish Pasty. Those issues and the extreme solution proposed by Clive offer plenty of scope for satire on international relations.
Yet the warning signs are already there; the Cornish are portrayed as yokels, while Cornishness is defined by pasties, tin mining, and how you serve a scone. The only woman in the play was an unloved fat girl growing up, but has returned slim and beautiful – suddenly, a romantic possibility! Torn between Clive’s promises of wealth and glamour, and Sam’s down-to-earth honesty and love, what’s a girl to do?
The stereotyping is crude throughout, but possibly at its worst in the choice of China as the enemy. Why China? Sure, they’re an emerging world power, but it makes no sense geographically or culturally. America would work equally well, and England could be cleverer and funnier. Could it be that China is just easier to laugh at? An uncomfortable thought.
Confusing plot points abound. The president only recognises Lisa the second time she appears on stage, leaving me unsure at first whether one actor was playing two roles. As an allegory for Trident, we have a trio of deadly ducks; Clive treacherously orders two of them to be taken to his yacht, yet later they're launched from a top-secret submarine. What's more, the deadly ducks are only deadly to the person who's holding them. Two such ducks are not going to bring the People's Liberation Army to its knees.
The slapstick is funny though; the scenes featuring Jarleth (playwright Daniel Hallisey) and Merryn (Charlie Bedford) are the highlights of the play, provoking uproarious laughter from the audience. It’s just a shame that these moments weren’t used to underscore more serious points, points that were there to be made but slip by. There is so much more that could be said about independence, and trying to maintain a sense of place and culture in an increasingly globalised world. But those opportunities are missed, and stereotypes are confirmed rather than subverted.
In the end this is a play that doesn’t really know what it is. There is clear potential as a post-Brexit satire on dependence and independence, but that aspect is neither developed nor clever enough – and is diminished by the one-dimensional parodies of both China and Cornwall. Some of the comedy is truly funny, but when the highlight is the sub-plot shenanigans of secondary characters, you know your play has a problem.