When Mark Ravenhill’s Citizenship was first performed, over ten years ago in 2006 at the National Theatre, Britain was a different place. It is sometimes difficult to remember how much mass cultural understanding of social issues has changed since ten years ago, but this shift in social understanding is traceable even legally. The law may have protected the rights of those in the LGBTQ + community in 2006, but we must remember that gay marriage was only legalised in 2013, coming into effect in 2014. It is also true that the LGBTQ + community was less visible in the early 2000s than it is today. For example, there would have been significantly less bisexual representation – something Citizenship clearly aims to combat.
The question that arises from this is: why perform Citizenship now? Does it still hold relevance in a society with a more open mentality and when performed to a group of students, a traditionally progressive demographic? The director, Anna Myrmus, has some strong answers to these questions. She talks about how bisexual representation is still something lacking in theatre and in art, and how questions of sexuality tend to be represented in a binary. There are two options and one is expected to choose between them. Citizenship is relevant because instead it explores one’s ability to choose neither of those options.
Myrmus also speaks of the play’s specific relevance to a university audience. I spoke to her about how the characters in the play, like university students, are questioning who they are, what they want and how to navigate the world around them. A coming-of-age play, and the questions it throws up, is relevant to those who have upped and left everything they know, to study in a new city with new people.
I saw the opening scene of the play and a scene from the middle. In the first scene we watch Tom (Henry Waddon), the central character of the play, allow his friend Amy (Olivia Krauze) to pierce his ear as part of a vodka-sipping, nurofen-popping and Dettol-soaked-needle-involving, series of panicked decisions. Waddon presents his character well. He comes across as young, foolish and scared. His awkward physicality enhances the audience’s sense of his youthfulness and his facial expressions lack the weight of responsibility that one gains in adulthood. Mark Ravenhill’s script holds up well, and the self-consciousness that Waddon and Krauze embody with their characters gives the script’s naturalism and subtle humour a chance to shine.
The later scene, between Tom and Gary (Stevie Polywka), comes into its own in the quiet moments when Gary asks Tom: “What do you want?”, to which Tom replies: “I don’t know…maybe I’ll do Amy”. The stillness of the scene seems brutally true to life. Citizenship is the kind of play that one leaves without answers. Instead, we are left with a sense of comfort that no-one really knows any of the answers, and we are all desperately trying to figure them out as much as the next person.
Citizenship, by Nightjar Theatre Productions is on from the 30th October – 3rd November at the BT Studio.