Theatre in Scotland about the extreme right


This video about theatre in Britain is called There Has Possibly Been An Incident: Interview with Chris Thorpe.

By Mike Quille, writing about the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland:

Reality checks with a future

Wednesday 3rd September 2014

MIKE QUILLE recommends two plays on far-right extremism that merit wider exposure beyond an apolitical festival

GIVEN the open, if undeclared, war being waged by the ruling classes across Britain and the energising effect of the referendum debate on Scottish politics, you might think that this year’s festival would have provided more in the way of artistic critiques, protest and alternative imaginings.

Yet much of the theatre on offer seemed unwilling to “stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality,” to quote Bertholt Brecht.

Because political apathy rules, maybe no more should be expected from artists.

But this seems pretty undemanding when you see examples of good political theatre.

A case in point is Blood Orange, a classic piece of agitprop by the Electric Theatre Collective. It’s based on real-life recent events in Dumfries, when the Scottish Defence League attempted to march and mobilise support.

In the play, a young man’s grief for his mother and the loss of their family shop is manipulated by a shadowy skinhead into racist violence, with tragic results.

In the process of telling this story, Blood Orange successfully combines a strong political message, exuberantly expressed in poetic writing and great ensemble acting, which is presented within the — brilliantly appropriate— crazed visual and sonic aesthetics of clubbing.

It’s a show which could and should be shown anywhere in Britain as a wake-up call to the dangers of the far-right’s mobilisation of alienated working-class youth.

Confirmation, a one-man show by writer-performer Chris Thorpe, works differently but is equally effective.

Based on the psychological theory of confirmation bias — by which we tend to interpret the world in ways which reinforce our convictions —it explores what happens when liberal, tolerant attitudes come up against right-wing extremism.

Thorpe and director Rachel Chavkin dramatise the resulting conflict in an innovative way through role play, thought experiments and Q and A sessions with the audience.

These are all delivered passionately, even aggressively, by Thorpe as he lurches violently around centre stage. Like a demented boxer, he confronts himself, his imagined political opponents and us.

Through a dramatised dialogue with a white supremacist and Holocaust denier, Thorpe negotiates through the psychology of engagement with far-right opinions and the cautionary need to keep our core values while being aware of our natural bias.

Enlightening and entertaining, it’s an unpredictable, intimidating and daring performance.

Both shows plaited together ideas and action — they’re outstanding examples of another Brecht dictum, that “theatre must teach all the pleasures and joys of discovery and all the feelings of triumph associated with liberation.”

More of that, please.

Bird book exhibition in The Hague, the Netherlands


Birds: Thousand years of birds in hundreds of books

Translated from Meermanno museum in The Hague in the Netherlands:

Birds: Thousand years of birds in hundreds of books

Royal Library and Museum Meermanno show special bird books

From August 29th, 2014 till January 4, 2015, the Royal Library (KB) and Museum Meermanno have a major exhibition on birds in books. The exhibition takes place at Museum Meermanno in The Hague.

At this special exhibition, rare bird books will be on display from ten centuries of book history, in six large rooms in the historic building of Museum Meermanno. The books are from the rich collections of the KB and Meermanno Museum.

The exhibition shows a broad overview of birds as the subjects of books, artwork and band decorations. From a tenth-century illustrated medieval manuscript, via a beautiful seventeenth-century scientific publications to books on falconry, pet birds and birds in literature and poetry.

There are also cookbooks to see about tasty fowl and curious books on various aspects of the birds: first aid for birds, sport with birds and travel books to bird colonies.

All types are covered: Dutch birds from chicken to great tit, exotic varieties from flamingos to penguins but also biblical and mythological flying animals.

Masterpieces

The following highlights are included: Der naturen bloeme by Jacob van Maerlant (around 1350), Ornithologia by Ulisse Aldrovandi (around 1600) and Chassidische legenden by Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1943-1944). The impressive book Nederlandsche vogelen by Nozemann and Sepp (1770-1829) was published in October 2014 in facsimile by Lannoo (www.nederlandschevogelen.nl).

Originally, there were plans for a photo opportunity with a bird of prey in the museum. After the The Hague branch of the Party for the Animals pointed out such an event would cause stress for the bird, the plan was canceled.

John Berger’s new poetry book


This video from Britain says about itself:

John Berger / Ways of Seeing, Episode 1 (1972)

A BAFTA award-winning BBC series with John Berger, which rapidly became regarded as one of the most influential art programmes ever made. In the first programme, Berger examines the impact of photography on our appreciation of art from the past.

Ways of Seeing is a 1972 BBC four-part television series of 30-minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. Berger’s scripts were adapted into a book of the same name. The series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images. The series is partially a response to Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series, which represents a more traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

John Berger: ways of seeing extraordinary in the ordinary

Tuesday 26th August 2014

21st-century poetry with Andy Croft

JOHN BERGER is one of the major radical European intellectuals of our time — a novelist, draughtsman, film-maker, essayist, critic and poet.

For over 60 years he has been challenging the way we see the world and how we think about it in books like Ways Of Seeing, Permanent Red, To The Wedding, A Painter Of Our Time, Pig Earth, Once In Europa, Lilac and Flag and From A-X.

But although Berger has always written poetry, often smuggling poems inside books like The Seventh Man, The White Bird and Pages Of The Wound, this is the first time his poetry has been collected in English.

Collected Poems (Smokestack Books, £8.95) brings together poems from the early 1950s to the first decade of the 21st century, including over 20 never previously published.

Many reflect Berger’s longstanding concerns with history and memory, art and war — unavoidable issues perhaps for a writer of his generation, as he explains in Self-portrait 1914-18:

“It seems now that I was so near to that war.

I was born eight years after it ended

When the General Strike had been defeated.

Yet I was born by Very Light and shrapnel

On duck boards

Among limbs without bodies.

I was born of the look of the dead

Swaddled in mustard gas

And fed in a dugout… I lived the first year of my life

Between the leaves of a pocket bible

Stuffed in a khaki haversack…. I was the world fit for heroes to live in.”

In many ways it is a book about violence —

“Hands of the world

amputated by profit

bleed in streets of bloodsheds”

— and there are poems here about Ypres, Mostar, Iraq, Palestine and the murder of Berger’s Chilean friend Orlando Letelier:

Before the fortress of injustice

he brought many together

with the delicacy of reason

and spoke there

of what must be done

amongst the rocks

not by giants

but by women and men

they blew him to pieces

because he was too coherent.

But it is also a beautiful book, about the beauty of the natural world and of the people who work in it:

Perhaps God resembles the story tellers

loving the feeble more than

the strong

the victors less

than the stricken.

Either way

in weak late October

the forest burns

with the sunshine

of the whole vanished summer.

And it contains a number of exquisite love poems:

My heart born naked

was swaddled in lullabies.

Later alone it wore

poems for clothes.

Like a shirt

I carried on my back

the poetry I had read.

So I lived for half a century

until wordlessly we met.

From my shirt on the back of the chair

I learn tonight

how many years

of learning by heart

I waited for you.

The most recent poem in the book They Are The Last is about the slow painful death of the European peasantry:

Each year more animals depart.

Only pets and carcasses remain,

and the carcasses living or dead

are from birth

ineluctably and invisibly

turned into meat.

Elsewhere

the animals of the poor

die with the poor

from protein insufficiency.

Now that they have gone

it is their endurance we miss.

As always, Berger demonstrates an enduring commitment to the extraordinary lives of ordinary people —

The mother puts

the newborn day

to her breast —

in perfectly framed still-life images. Sensual and plain, they are delicate sketches of hard lives caught between the provisional quality of language and the permanence of things, as in this hymn to the humble kitchen ladle:

Pewter pock-marked

moon of the ladler

rising above the mountain

going down into the saucepan

serving generations

steaming

dredging what has grown from seed

in the garden

thickened with potato

outliving us all

on the wooden sky

of the kitchen wall…Ladle

pour the sky steaming

with the carrot sun

the stars of salt

and the grease of the pig earth

pour the sky steaming

ladle

pour soup for our days

pour sleep for the night

pour years for my children.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem commemorates World War I dead


This classical music video is called Benjamin Britten – War Requiem.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Britten masterpiece fitting reminder of WWI carnage

Tuesday 19th August 2014

War Requiem

Usher Hall

5/5

THERE could be no more fitting work to recognise the centenary of “the war to end wars” than this great pacifist statement by Benjamin Britten on the pity of global conflict. This must be one of the most dramatic of requiem masses.

There is throughout an angry ironic exchange between the words of the conventional Latin Mass for the Dead, with its religious message of damnation and prayerful appeals for salvation, and the interwoven anti-war poetry of the greatest of war poets, Wilfred Owen.

The opening aeternam, a plea for eternal rest, is followed by Owen’s bitterly sad sonnet Anthem For Doomed Youth, with the memorable opening line of: “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”

Throughout, the poems puncture the complacent profundities of the religious scenario.

Britten’s music, which spine-chillingly captures the Armageddon of battle and the helpless and hapless lament of the senseless slaughter, progressively draws the two worlds together.

It climaxes when the enemies on the battlefield meet in death — “I was the enemy you killed my friend … let us sleep now” — meet with the ethereal voices of boys wishing these martyrs to rest in peace.

Andrew Davis conducts the massed musical ranks of the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Scotland’s National Boys Choir and three international soloists in an ascent from a standing start to magnificent heights, while chorus master Christopher Bell induces some stunning choral singing.

German baritone Matthias Goerne and English tenor Toby Spence as the enemy soldiers truly are the voices of suffering humanity while Uzbek soprano Albina Shagimuratova thrills as the voice of the angel. Magnificent.

British poet Attila the Stockbroker on punk rock


This video from Amsterdam in the Netherlands says about itself:

Attila the Stockbroker & Barnstormer – Live @ Soundgarden 02.11.2012 – Pt 1:

1. LEVELLERS / DIGGERS 2. BAGHDAD SKA 3. COMANDANTE JOE 4. TYLER SMILES 5. THE BLANDFORD FORUM.

Attila the Stockbroker on vocals, violin, crumhorn and recorders; Dan Woods on guitar; Baby Beaken on bass; Mass Murder McGee (some of them are also members of The Fish Brothers.)

Attila the Stockbroker (born John Baine, 21 October 1957, Southwick, Sussex, England) is a punk poet, and a folk punk musician and songwriter. He performs solo and as the leader of the band Barnstormer. He describes himself as a “sharp tongued, high energy social surrealist poet and songwriter.” He has performed over 2,700 concerts, published six books of poems, and released 30+ recordings (CDs, LPs and singles).

By poet Attila the Stockbroker from Britain:

The Europeans’ knack for culturally nourishing rebellion

Thursday 14th August 2014

On the road with Attila the Stockbroker

Amsterdam is always a pleasure to visit, and the Paradiso club — once a squatted church — is a legendary presence in the scene.

Did a gig there, solo poetry and with my band Barnstormer, as part of a vibrant and wide-ranging evening of spoken word and music and then headed to Peine, near Hannover in Germany, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their autonomous centre, the AJZ.

When it comes to independent music, politics and culture generally, much of mainland Europe is a completely different world compared to Britain.

Autonomously run venues emerged from the squatter movement years ago and are now legal and run independently by local left-wing activists — there are literally hundreds of them, dotted across many different countries, which guarantees performers like myself a network of ready-made places to play, run by like-minded people.

For someone whose British network consists of fairly mainstream arts centres and rock venues and sympathetic pubs that let people put on gigs in an an upstairs room, it’s always a sheer pleasure to see how things can be organised differently.

Highlight in Peine was a blistering performance by Canadian punk legend and activist Joey “Shithead” Keighley and his band DOA, whom I was to meet again a few days later at last weekend’s annual Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool.

For many years now, thousands of punks, young and not so young (!) have taken over the Winter Gardens there for a four-day celebration of the music we love.

As usual, this year’s event was a blast and I had a wonderful gig on the Almost Acoustic Stage on the Friday. As for whom I saw on stage, well, here goes…

My mate TV “Adverts” Smith and his band the Bored Teenagers were fantastic. So were The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Peter & The Test Tube Babies, John Otway, Ruts DC, The Cravats, Roy Ellis aka Mr Symarip (doing “Skinhead Moonstomp” and reminding us that real skinheads have hated racism since 1969) and The Outcasts and The Defects from Belfast. To name but a few.

But it’s absolutely wrong to think that Rebellion is just about the old guard, and among the new breed I must single out acoustic singer/songwriter Louise Distras, who is the sharp, angry voice of her generation of punk rockers and a real breath of fresh air in the scene. Her set was a masterpiece.

We have to beware the impostors though. Inside the Winter Gardens there was a real sense of unity, but outside I came across a group of fascists, some with tickets, some not, intent as always in spreading hate and causing trouble.

I had a verbal altercation — I’m 56 and was on my own, I’m glad it stayed verbal — and soon realised that many of them were from eastern Europe. Cue the ironic rant!

“Brain dead morons from mainland Europe, coming over here, singing crap English songs, crap English fascists wrote in stupid accents… We’re full up, mate.

“We’ve got our full quota of racist cretins with IQs smaller than their boot size. Piss off back to where you come from!”

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

Next stop Guernsey, and a rather different festival. Happy holidays to one and all.