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Poppies, Ropes, and Shadow Play: Transcultural Memories of the First World War during Brexit

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2021


The years 2014 to 2018 witnessed the centenary of the First World War, commemorated around different cities and other locations around the world. In the United Kingdom, public centenary commemorations were funded by the Tory government, Heritage Lottery Fund, and private and corporate donors with an overall budget of over fifty million pounds, including the cultural programme 14–18 NOW that encompassed television documentaries, educational programmes, art exhibitions, theatre, and dance performances. 2016 was also the year of the divisive Brexit referendum, when Leave voters won by a small margin to end Britain’s membership of the European Union. As Britain sought to redefine its global political role, artists devised a set of suggestive transcultural acts of remembrance to spur public debate about the colonial past and current resurging nationalism. This article discusses three important theatrical events commissioned by 14–18 NOW: Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (2014), Akram Khan’s XENOS (2018), and William Kentridge’s The Head & the Load (2018). Each theatrical event refocused awareness regarding long-standing crises of identity conflicts at the heart of Britain’s contemporary politics, pointing towards an uncertain national future. Sabine Sörgel was Senior Lecturer in Dance and Theatre at the University of Surrey (2013–2019) and is now an independent scholar, writer, and dramaturge. Her most recent book is African Contemporary Dance Theatre: Phenomenology, Whiteness, and the Gaze (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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