The sight of a Union Jack lying onstage is a jarring one. One year on from the Brexit vote, several terror incidents and provocations from the alt-right later, the flag’s nationalistic connotations are at the very least contentious. In the middle of the Fringe, arguably a hotbed of liberal middle class voters, the prop feels downright controversial. Matt Abbott’s Two Little Ducks, just like his flag, is an unflinching take on national identity that is often discordant with his audience. Coming from Wakefield (where 66% voted Leave) and descending from a long line of miners, Abbott is entirely sympathetic, albeit not always in agreement, with the motives behind wanting to leave the EU. Two Little Ducks feels in part like an attempt to represent that reasoning to the 48%, a bold but necessary move, especially at a festival that is already feeling the brunt of failed visa applications for artists.
Abbott delivers a series of vignettes from his Northern English community, which both celebrates a working class culture and shows how it has been put under attack. We see snapshots of bingo halls and pie shops, and meet the miners whose fate led to the North’s economic decline. In one cutting line, Abbott implies that Brexit was a result of Labour’s failings – “Don’t shit on us for thirty years and then ask us for a favour”. On the other side of the channel, Abbott shows the everyday reality of living and volunteering in the concrete jungle. By checking his own feelings of vulnerability against what others there have already been through, he gives an up-close account that renders each refugee a human rather than a statistic. Both refugees and the working-class, once placed on opposite sides of the EU referendum debate, are shown to suffer a common fate. Be it Western bombs or austerity, the powerful are actively targeting communities and then refusing to pick up the pieces.
One word that comes to mind during Abbott’s performance is “solid”. A barrage of words comes wrapped in a tight rhyming scheme that ensures their maximum impact. Abbott commands a forceful stage presence, seeming indignant but matter-of-fact. He projects his poetry with a plain spoken demeanour that demands we sit up and pay attention. We are made to take notice of the small details of people’s lives, and see the things that we have in common across political spectrums and cultures. Abbott’s message is simple, and summed up best by the rousing final line of his closing poem (which he explains is separate to the rest of the Two Little Ducks piece) – “If we all stick together, we can drown the set of bastards”.