Preview: A New Dawn, interview with writer Olly Kendall

As the UK and Europe continue to wait for a resolution on the planned exit from the Eutopean Union, a timely play will be running in London on 20 and 21 October – first at the King’s Head for two performances, then the next evening at the Union.

Poster image for A New Dawn
Poster image for A New Dawn

A New Dawn is a new play by former political adviser and lobbyist, Olly Kendall. It features a married couple, Lucy and Emma, both MPs but recently estranged, and dealing with issues around trust and fake news in the political landscape of the near future. It is the week of a General Election, and they both have to deal with a breaking news story.

No political party is implied or stated – in fact, Kendall states “I have created a whole new political party specifically to be able to explore trust in our politics and how we want to see ourselves as a country without the baggage of party politics weighing it down”.

‘When I got back from my count, you were sat there, just like you are now. Same time of the morning too. Our one moment together before everyone wanted a piece of you. I remember thinking there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do together.’

A New Dawn stars Sue Appleby as Emma and Sarah Leigh as Lucy.

Poster image for A New Dawn
Sue Appleby in A New Dawn

I asked Olly Kendall to answer a few questions on the production.

Why is A New Dawn relevant now, when people may have been “Brexited-out” with politics?

OK: I am utterly Brexited out too! But this play, whilst it deals with the fallout of Brexit, does so in an indirect way (the word ‘Brexit’ isn’t mentioned once).

The play is much more interested in how an estranged couple might be able to re-discover one another, and to begin to heal their relationship, and is – I think – a hopeful piece of writing.

That felt like the most honest way I could think about Brexit and the current divisions – doing so through the prism of a broken relationship, and which is in some ways an allegory of the breakdown of trust and civility between Leavers and Remainers.

Of course the couple in question are politicians and the other element of the play is the collision of their professional and personal lives, forcing them ultimately to make a decision about which is more important. 

You are performing in two very different fringe spaces at the King’s Head and the Union: why was it important to play at these venues?

OK: Both venues have a reputation for supporting new productions and new writing which we were attracted to.

They are also both really great, intimate spaces that felt like they would compliment the staging – the play is set in a single location (a small front room) and it’s important that you can get that sense of a sort of claustrophobia for the characters.

We have loved working with both theatres and we are hoping to bring more shows to them in the not too distant future!

Mark Donald in A New Dawn
Mark Donald in A New Dawn

You’ll be aware of Hansard, a play about a politically polarised couple currently running at the National Theatre. Does A New Dawn complement this piece, or are you aiming to create something with a very different focus?

OK: I have not seen Hansard so would be remiss to comment too much – save for the fact that ours is set in the imagined near future, whereas Hansard is obviously set in the past. But yes they clearly both have political couples at their heart. 

Do you have any confidence that trust in politics and politicians can be restored?

OK: Well, that is really the key question that the play – for me at least – poses.

It does feel to me that potentially the most damaging legacy of Brexit will be the breakdown in trust generally in our political leaders that seems to be happening.

It doesn’t feel dissimilar to the whole thing around fake news: there comes this point where people just don’t believe anything people say anymore. It’s why this issue of trust in politics feels so important to me right now, and which is why I have written this play.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit is we clearly need to come together as a country, and politicians of all sides need to bury the hatchet. I’m not convinced though that will happen quickly.

The reverberation around Brexit will last for years, possibly decades. It feels to me like that job might well be in the hands of the next generation of political leaders who are not yet elected. 

Sarah Leigh in A New Dawn
Sarah Leigh in A New Dawn

My thanks to Olly for his answers, and for providing the images used in this piece.

Book for A New DawnKing’s Head and Union Theatre.