I wish I could say that Nitin Sawhney’s Brexit anthem broke new ground. Definitely not a vintage night at the Barbican.
Now let’s see, what rhymes with “hope and glory”? You can imagine Nitin Sawhney as he typed out his state-of-the-nation opus. Ah, yes, “hopeful Tories”. That will do. And there can be something about “anti-migrant stories”, can’t there? What about the final line though? We need something crushing. Ah yes, “Farage and Nadine Dorries”. Job done.
It’s to the credit of London Contemporary Voices, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and their conductor Jonathon Heyward that they gave the text — optimistically subtitled A Rational Anthem For a National Tantrum — a veneer of dignity that it really didn’t deserve. Summoning up the ghosts of Byrd and Tallis, the hymn-like setting evoked a country adrift in its quest for an idyllic past. The orchestra, pushed into the background by the composer-keyboard player’s band, added discreet colour. I wish we could have heard more of it.
The performance was part of the Sky Arts Art 50 festival devoted to examining our national identity. What a shame Sawhney could offer only the dullest of clichés. All the unenlightening vox pop interviews crudely inserted into the middle of the piece came from Remainers, and the evening took an even more tub-thumping turn in a bonus item at the end of the concert, when the actor and director Andy Serkis sashayed on to the stage, dressed as Theresa May. Smirking and gurning, he delivered Brexonian Tragedy, Sawhney’s rewrite of Bohemian Rhapsody. The PM is fair game, of course, but Serkis couldn’t manage much beyond a half-suppressed Nazi salute at the mention of immigration. So much for rationality.