A forum for debate: combining research, theatre and diverse audiences

Early Days (of a better nation) has undergone radical shifts in tone and format through its development, but two questions have always hovered near the heart of the show: “if people were able to start again and build a nation, what sort of nation would they make?” and “can a theatrical space be created which allows people to have genuine political agency?”

The vital (r)evolution in the journey of the show was the decision to bring political academics beyond R & D and right into the heart of the creation of the piece. We’d realised that while we could devour books about politics and endlessly rewatch Question Time on IPlayer, our political expertise would always be makeshift. With our partners, the Cultural Institute at King’s College London  and Warwick Arts Centre, we began a formal collaboration with a host of political economists and the final version of the show has been built around our research with them.


Professor Rod Dacombe, our lead academic at KCL, saw in Early Days the potential to move political theory away from the ivory towers of academia towards the frontline of what real people actually think. At Warwick University, Professor Michael Saward was excited to see the general public behaving as political theorists, whilst Professor Renske Doorenspleet brought a wealth of international perspectives to our narratives. Our challenge was to build a show around their academic thinking which was at once accessible and authentic.

Early Days doesn’t have a specific political agenda and doesn’t attempt to guide the audience towards any one outcome being ‘true’ or ‘right’. What the show does try to do is model some of the key challenges of the political process, framing scenarios where compromise is key, and challenging our preconceptions. In test performances so far we’ve had a new form of democracy created, a near riot over civil rights and young first time voters told us that the political dilemmas posed made them “think of stuff we’ve never thought of before”.

We’re creating a show aims to be a forum for genuine debate. There is something compelling and potentially transformative about an audience member playing, standing up and clearly defending manifestos built around their own ideas or ideas that in the real world they’d run a million miles from. One of our favourite moments in a recent test show came when an audience member, who is radically left-wing in her outlook, fiercely defended her group’s plans for appointing a temporary dictator and imposing martial law. Afterwards she admitted her frustration at the “lily-livered lefties” who refused to understand the necessary pragmatism of her policies.

The next step in our process is to combine the research interests of Professor Rod Dacombe with our show, to really look at how different audience groups with different backgrounds and interests would shape the performance. On that basis we’re embarking on a collaboration between KCI and Only Connect, a crime prevention charity working to develop positive communities for young people at risk, prisoners and ex-offenders. Together we hope to work with diverse audiences, including first-time voters, ex-offenders and public sector professionals, to explore the impact Early Days can have.

We hope that our Kickstarter Campaign will help make this possible, and through your generous support we can perfect our fictional nation.

Tom Bowtell & Annette Mees

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