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Early Days of a Better Nation (Battersea Arts Centre)

The audience are invited to rebuild a country in Coney's latest production

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Democracy in action? The audience ponder a map of Dacia
© Coney

Not as easy as it looks, politics. Early Days of a Better Nation, the latest interactive game/show from Coney, lets us attempt to rule ourselves - or rather, it lets us fail in the attempt.

We're cast as citizens of Dacia, a once great nation, now destitute and divided after a bitter civil war. With the fascistic dictatorship toppled, it's up to us to form a new government and rebuild or reshape Dacia.

Early Days... sits somewhere between a model UN and a collaborative board game. We're divided into three groups or regions: the City, ravaged by the war and wracked by an epidemic; the agricultural Plains, Dacia's larder, now facing a refugee crisis; and the Islands, largely unaffected and still idealistic. We're then thrown together into a council chamber and tasked with drawing up the terms a new political system together.

It's a smart set-up. The different groups quickly take on different priorities: the City's desperation and urgency putting it at odds with both the Islands' idealism and the Plains' sense of independence. It guarantees conflict that needs real-life, in-the-room resolution within a tight time limit. Where one lot emphasise the need for international aid, others are concerned about giving up self-determination.

'It's an infuriating encounter - largely, I suspect, designed as such'

When it comes to picking terms of government, there's a dogged tug-of-war between idealism and pragmatism: universal suffrage, one vote per person, might be ideal but it's impractical; benevolent dictatorship, by contrast, is disconcerting but definite. There's a remarkable feeling of freedom though, with the possibility to build in your own clauses and even a sense that, should the right revolutionary genius be amongst us, some entirely new format could emerge.

Having built our system, we have to enact it. With a map of the nation on the floor marking the infrastructural problems that need solving, but having too few resources to do so, Dacia's future is left in our hands. Cue a series of running battles; negotiation stopped short by decisive action, altruism trumped by self-interest, a system undercut by corrupt.

It's an infuriating encounter - largely, I suspect, designed as such. We're set up to fail and, for all the enjoyment of the process, it's frustrating that there seems to be no way to beat the game. Our group leaders often speak on our behalf, pushing proceedings in the necessary direction, and the media left to recount proceedings ride roughshod over fact with their own version of events. There's enough freedom to break through this system, but whether one manages to do so or not, it's a game that privileges volume over wisdom - pretty much like politics itself.

Early Days of a Better Nation runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 25 April, then tours to Glasgow, Belfast, Eastleigh, Liverpool and Coventry (details here)


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