Theatre: Interview with Little England writer/director Ian Dixon-Potter

Golden Age Theatre gets its name from the Elizabethan Golden Age so has set its stage aspirations pretty high. Successfully so. Few can argue about the cerebral quality of their content. Studio UK interviews the creative force behind Brexit-themed play Little England. Writer-director Ian Dixon-Potter takes the hot seat!

Production photo

Can you give our readers some background on Golden Age Theatre and what inspired its creation?

After the success of the first play (The Dead Shepherd, co-written with Robert Pope and directed by Linda Miller) it became obvious that a theatre company would have to be set up to produce future plays (most fringe theatres don’t actually produce plays). The Dead Shepherd was set in the Elizabethan golden age, hence ‘Golden Age Theatre Company’. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a ‘golden age’ of creativity, the most recent in this county arguably being the three post war decades when fine art, product design, architecture, literature and theatre flourished before being stifled by the dead hand of 1980’s commercialism.

Golden Age Theatre deals with some deep topics from the Elizabethan age through to contemporary Britain. In what ways does Little England follow this desire to tackle ‘big ideas’?’

Most playwrights tend to create the type of theatre which they themselves would enjoy and in my case that means plays about ideas. The ideas explored in ‘Little England’ revolve around the issue of Brexit but also have a wider significance, for example, questions of cultural and national identity, tolerance, tribalism, the tensions between populism and elitism, between multiculturalism and parochialism, the roots of xenophobia and the limitations of democracy in the face of a sophisticated and manipulative news media more interested in influencing the course of events than in reporting the truth.

Can you tell us a little more about the play (without giving away the main plot points, of course)

I hope that ‘Little England’ works on different levels. It’s the most comedic play I’ve written so I’ll be very disappointed if the audience don’t find it hilarious. There are different types of comedy, mainly character comedy, but also verbal and physical comedy. There’s even one scene which verges on farce. The play is also a love story and I hope the audience will feel for the characters and be eager to see a relationship develop between Heidi and Ralph. Thirdly the play attempts to explore just why people voted for Brexit and set a few years in the future, predicts the dire consequences of leaving the EU.

By the way, what’s the thematic connection with your previous play Hiding Heidi, for those of our readers who haven’t seen it?

I was very pleased with the way the previous play, ‘Hiding Heidi’ turned out, largely a consequence of the skill and dedication of each of the four actors. There wasn’t a weak link in the production and it seemed a shame to wrap it all up after only one two week run. Initially I hoped to re-stage ‘Hiding Heidi’ in its original form only a few weeks after the initial run at Etcetera Theatre. The artistic director of a high profile and much larger London theatre came to see ‘Hiding Heidi’ and we were offered the opportunity to stage the play there however it emerged that the theatre hire costs were considerably beyond our budget and the play would almost certainly have run at a loss.

We were very pleased when the opportunity arose to stage the play at The Museum of Comedy theatre and (with a few months in hand), I decided to re-write the play, taking into account some of the political developments which have taken place since the original staging. I also wanted to broaden the scope of ‘Hiding Heidi’ into more of a ‘state of the nation’ play. ‘Little England’ is set in 2024, a few years later than ‘Hiding Heidi ‘ and the scene is now set by several ‘BBC Radio 4’ news bulletins, (read by former ‘World Tonight’ anchor man Robin Lustig) along with a public information announcement by the director of the ‘Unregistered and Illegal Alien Enforcement Office’.

Together, these create a clear context for the human drama at the heart of the play. What was formerly implicit in ‘Hiding Heidi’ is now explicit in ‘Little England’. All of the original scenes were either re-written or trimmed and there’s a new scene with an additional character played by Albert Clack (who appeared in two former Golden Age Theatre Company productions, ‘Good King Richard’ and ‘Tiresia’). It was suggested to me that from a marketing perspective the original title was too ambiguous and now too narrow for the expanded scope of the play and so the title became ‘Little England’.

Finally when and where does the play open and how long is the first run? 

“Little England” opens at The Museum of Comedy Theatre on 13th November for a weeks run.

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