The acclaimed theatre tour of POST by Xavier de Sousa arrives in Poole for the first time on Saturday 27 April and invites you to join Xavier at the table, eat yummy food, drink potent Cachaça, get merry, make new friends and challenge what exactly makes a ‘nation’.

Last year The Tung caught up with Xavier to find out more about this solo performance which celebrates the migrant experience, delving into the construction of national identity and the notions of borders and nationalism in a changing socio-political climate ...

Hi Xavier! So, what can we expect from POST? 

Hi guys! My pleasure entirely. 

POST is a performance that invites you to the dinner table, to eat some yummy Portuguese food (both meaty and veggie), drink potent Cachaca (or you can also have juice if you’re not into alcohol!) and to have a frank discussion/argument about what we perceive as national identity, really. It is also a place for the representation of dissenting voices and the questioning of how we learn history and what we consider ‘community’ to be. But I want us to have fun whilst doing it, of course. I want people to feel welcomed, represented and respected in the room. 

You had us at Portuguese food! Okay, so what led you to devise this kind of performance? Where did it all start for you?  

About three ago, when UKIP gained a load of seats to the European Parliament and the discussion, nationally and online, became extremely toxic towards migrants. I was wanting to explore how we, migrants, can regain some respect towards that word, re-appropriate it and to shed some light on how we got to where we are now. You know, with people being killed, beaten up or harassed because of how foreign they might be or might not be. 

At the same time, I started to really take in how much being a migrant from the EU really affected my standing in this country. How much privilege we have, that is about to be taken from us. I hate that this is happening because I don’t think this should be a privilege at all. To be able to travel should be a right. Yet, people from outside of the EU have gone through massive hoops and jumps to get here and also have little to no representation. 

And I wanted to understand why this xenophobia, which is inherent and systemic, is unchallenged. So I became interested in the history of both this country and the one I was born and raised in, Portugal, so as to put current affairs into perspective and context. I was astonished about how much of what we are told is our history is actually poetised and shaped into a discourse of protectionism that only benefits the wealthy, never the poorer or the masses. 

So this idea of ‘national identity’ creates a false sense of community, right? 

For me, it signifies a branding of a group of people for the benefits of the few against the rest of the population. Most of our national identities across Europe were built on colonial empires and oppression of other communities, some of the symbols of our national identities are direct appropriations from our old colonies into our branding (anyone fancy a cup of tea?!). And it seems pretty silly to me – can you really create a brand that accurately represents 60million people? No, of course not. So you create a brand that is representative of a very small group of people, that looks at a past through bias lens, and use that to teach ‘your ’people through those lens. It is a very powerful tool to ensure social control, and allows for the creation of racial and nationality bias against dissenting voices. Thus creating a notion of ‘us’ and them. Melisa Aronczyk’s book on National Branding is excellent to explore how the branding of nations and communities has been a staple of capitalism and social control for a long time, for instance.  

That is not to say that I don't find different cultures appealing - I do, and that’s one of the main reasons I love to travel. But imagine what we would be like as a world without borders - the differences and multiculturalism would be fascinating, I believe. And no, I'm not an advocate for Globalism, that’s just another branch of capitalism which I despise. 

We seem to have more of an idea of the dark side of British 'national identity' since the onset of Brexit-induced chaos. What do you hope to achieve by presenting POST in the UK at this moment in our history? 

There is distinct lack of acceptance to the platforming of migrant communities when we are the ones on the line. During the Brexit debate (before and since the vote), how many migrant voices were actually platformed to be heard? Hardly any. Everyone who got platformed was British-born. This is intensely problematic because then you are not really advancing the discussion or expanding the knowledge employed during that discussion.  Surely hearing from the people who will most directly be affected should be a priority? Instead, we have had now over three years of people telling us what to expect, how to feel and how to behave. Enough!

I want to advance the discourse from this whole Brexit thing being about the EU and actually talk about the real issue at play: racism and xenophobia. The moment you close borders and enforce control of who is coming in, you are not only profiling people in the name of creating an ‘optimum type of person’ who is allowed in the country, but you are also profiling and conditioning a whole community. This is incredibly problematic and frustrating to be honest. 

On a more selfish note, POST has allowed me to experiment a little with theatrical devices that I have become interested in. Concepts such as ‘hosting’, ‘borders’, ‘co-existence’ and power/privilege play a lot in the form of this piece. 

…and you're crossing literal borders by taking POST on tour. Do you think audience reaction will be different from county to county? 

I am so excited about taking it to places like Poole (super Tory, conservative area) and Blackpool for instance. Both areas with extensive pro-Brexit history and post-colonial social structures that seem like the perfect places to take this show to. I want different voices in the middle of the show, I want people to bring their histories and their views to the table. 

The show’s second and third acts are area-responsive, and I make sure we have local context mixed in to the conversations so that we have as broad a discussion as possible. And when I say local context, I mean local history, local social-economic events, and how the local area is represented. I also mean in terms of different types of voices that we reach out to. It is very important to me that we reach out to both migrants (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th generations, refugees, etc) and British-born individuals, even if they have never left the country. 

Huge thanks to The Tung for kindly allowing us to share their Q&A. Click here for more of their thoughts and feelings on the Culture industry.

Published 16 April 2019