‘The British people have spoken’: the monologue in the Brexit Shorts series

Shauna O’Brien (Trinity College Dublin)


On 24 June 2016, veteran political commentator David Dimbleby announced the result of the EU Referendum. ‘The British people have spoken’, he said, ‘and the answer is we’re out.’ While it was clear that 52% had voted to leave the EU, what was less certain was exactly how this exit should be realised. To further complicate matters, the divisive rhetoric deployed during the campaign period had served to yoke each side to broader socio-political issues and, in the aftermath of the referendum, various factions were claiming the result as an endorsement for their own ideological viewpoints. If the British people had indeed spoken by voting to Remain or Leave the EU, as Dimbleby had declared, then their voices had effectively been purloined in the process and recirculated in the public sphere to express ideological viewpoints they did not necessarily all hold or share.

Perhaps a large degree of circumspection should be applied, therefore, to any artistic project that claimed to be ‘giving voice’ to these voters. After all, it was the dichotomising lens of the EU Referendum that had arguably reduced voters to these polarised abstractions in the first place. Yet this was precisely the claim made by one of the earliest theatrical responses to the EU referendum – Brexit Shorts, a series of nine short monologues commissioned by Headlong Theatre and The Guardian. This project proffered itself as a possible remedy to the gulf that had opened up between voters on each side of the intractable referendum divide. In this article, I will interrogate the reasons why this project chose to adopt the monologue to pursue this goal, a theatrical form that might initially appear too limited to present the polyvocal and complex reactions of the British people to Brexit.

Keywords: monologue, Brexit, online theatre, Guardian, Headlong Theatre

Full text: OAJ_issue8_obrien (pdf, 278 KB).

DOI:  http://dx.doi.org/10.5456/issn.2050-3679/2020s02

Biographical note

Dr Shauna O’Brien is a Government of Ireland postdoctoral fellow at the School of English, Trinity College Dublin. Her current research focuses on the performance of Shakespeare’s plays in Iran and among the Iranian diaspora.