Anton Chekhov on stage in London, England

This video from the USA says about itself:

The Seagull – 1975 – Anton Chekhov – John J. Desmond – Blythe Danner – Frank Langella

A group of friends and relations gather at a country estate to see the first performance of an experimental play written and staged by the young man of the house, Konstantin (Frank Langella), an aspiring writer who dreams of bringing new forms to the theatre.

By Jack Dunleavy in England:

Vivid and artful

Tuesday 9th August 2016

An Anton Chekhov marathon leaves Jack Dunleavy emotionally battered but deeply satisfied by the experience

Young Chekhov: Platonov, Ivanov, The Seagull
National Theatre, London SE1

What’s more daunting, seeing three plays in one day or paying £150 to do so?

Young Chekhov at the National Theatre takes this question as its secret theme.

In a new version David Hare explores the shortcomings of art and love, the importance of money and the perils of boredom.

The protagonists in Anton Chekhov’s early work are a trio of manchildren, each going through a different kind of quarter-life crisis.

In Platonov, the title character has more women on his plate than he can handle. James McArdle is excellent in the main role, armed with the pick-up artist’s weapons of choice from Casanova to The Game — flouncy shirt, big boots and plenty to drink. Whether he’s lying to a lover or just lying on the floor drunk, Platonov is exasperatingly forgivable.

Play number two, Ivanov, is about a penniless landowner who can’t bear the company of anyone he knows, most of all his consumptive wife (Nina Sosanya).

Chekhov’s signature flickering between comedy and tragedy is pulled off excellently in Platonov, but jars a little in this one.

Geoffrey Streatfeild is so convincingly miserable as Nikolai Ivanov that the laughs are generated more often from farce than wit.

The day builds to a climax with The Seagull, Chekhov’s first real masterpiece.

This is a story about endless struggles — old art and new, one generation and the next, the sexes, cities and the country.

To no-one’s surprise Anna Chancellor gives the standout performance of the entire day as Arkadina, the once-famous actor and mother of avant-garde playwright and nervous wreck Konstantin (Joshua Jones).

Chancellor serves a cocktail of ego, magnetism and just a slice of panic. True to her character, she demands the audience’s attention and praise even in the background.

Is it worth the time and money? The plays don’t necessarily end when the curtain comes down. Part of the fun is how the Chekhovian spirit seeps throughout the intervals and into the next production.

Chekhov’s world isn’t the happiest place to spend the day, but it is vivid and artful. His protagonists may destroy themselves by questioning their place in life, but for nine hours in the Olivier theatre the audience knows they’ve come to the right place.

Runs until October 8 2016. Box Office: (020) 7452-3000

Lorraine Hansberry’s play on colonialism in Africa

This video from London, England says about itself:

What is Les Blancs?

24 March 2016

A breathtaking story of race and identity.

A family and a nation fall apart under the pressure to determine their own identity as this brave, illuminating and powerful play confronts the hope and tragedy of revolution.

Written eleven years after A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s final drama is an unknown masterpiece of the American stage and a highly theatrical search for the soul of post-colonial Africa.

Les Blancs marks the National Theatre debut of the multi-award-winning director Yaël Farber, whose productions include The Crucible (Old Vic) and the internationally-acclaimed Miss Julie and Nirbhaya.

Now playing at the Olivier Theatre, South Bank, until 4 June.

By John Green in Britain:

Liberating experience

Saturday 2nd April 2016

Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs, a magnificent play on the post-war anti-colonial struggle in Africa, loses none of its relevance in our own times, says JOHN GREEN

Les Blancs
National Theatre, London SE1

LORRAINE Hansberry, born in 1930, was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway.

Strongly influenced by friends and mentors like Paul Robeson and WEB Du Bois, much of her work concerned the African struggle for liberation and the Nina Simone song To Be Young, Gifted and Black was inspired by her.

This music video from the USA says about itself:

“To Be Young, Gifted & Black” by Nina Simone (includes interview).

Recording session: Live at Morehouse College in Atlanta, June 1969.

The John Green article continues:

Hansberry died at the age of 34, shortly before Les Blancs (The Whites) — whose title references Jean Genet’s “clown show” play The Blacks — was finished and it was completed by her former husband Robert Nemiroff.

Written 11 years after A Raisin in the Sun, this final drama is her masterpiece and a highly theatrical search for the soul of post-colonial Africa.

That’s made explicit from the play’s opening. In the centre of the bare stage stands the skeletal frame of a building — the mission station where the white missionaries live and work, cared for by black servants.

Beyond its perimeter is the impenetrable darkness of Africa, unseen and unknown, out of which figures emerge to visit the mission station and disappear back into it.

The stage revolves continually, indicating change, instability and revolution, and around its perimeter a tall, almost naked, female figure (Sheila Atim) circles like a prowling cheetah.

Sometimes she drags a bowl of fire behind her. The spirit of Africa, unfathomable, is always present.

Les Blancs is set in an unnamed country — it could be Rhodesia, South Africa or Kenya — where those fighting for justice and independence are the “terrorists” who, in the end, have to be crushed by troops and fighter planes.

The “war on terror” is nothing new.

Hansberry shows a society teetering on the edge of insurgency as it prepares to drive out its colonial masters and claim an independent future.

Racial tensions boil over as Tshembe (Danny Sapani), a black intellectual living in Europe, returns to Africa for the funeral of his father, who had founded a resistance movement against colonial rule. He must decide whether to become involved in the insurgency.

But at the mission station he meets the white liberal US journalist Charlie Morris (Elliot Cowan), who has come to write a story about the intrepid, brave missionaries and their good work.

He is soon forced to re-evaluate his liberal concepts and Tshembe, too, is forced to make a choice — to continue down the pacifist road or embrace violence as the only way to achieve the liberation of his people.

Hansberry’s dialogue is fast-paced, witty and politically profound and this production is true total theatre, being simultaneously a Greek tragedy and an African village passion play which ends apocalyptically in a kind of ritual cleansing.

It’s riveting drama, directed with panache and precision by Yael Farber and with a vibrant, totally committed cast.

Although set in the past, it has strong resonances for today and that’s doubtless why the audience gave it a standing ovation on the first night.

Runs until June 2, box office:

This video says about itself:

10 January 2011

Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930[1] — January 12, 1965) was an African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays.[2] Her best known work, A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family’s legal battle against racially segregated housing laws in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago during her childhood.[3]

Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but found college uninspiring and left in 1950 to pursue her career as a writer in New York City, where she attended The New School.[4] She worked on the staff of the black newspaper Freedom under the auspices of Paul Robeson, and worked with W. E. B. DuBois, whose office was in the same building.[4] A Raisin in the Sun was written at this time, and was a huge success. It was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. At 29 years, she became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.[5] While many of her other writings were published in her lifetime – essays, articles, and the text for the SNCC book The Movement, the only other play given a contemporary production was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.[6]

In 1961, Hansberry was set Vinnette Carroll as the director of the musical, Kicks and Co, after its try-out at Chicago’s McCormick Place. It was written by Oscar Brown, Jr. and featured an interracial cast including Lonnie Sattin, Nichelle Nichols, Vi Velasco, Al Freeman, Jr., Zabeth Wilde and Burgess Meredith in the title role of Mr. Kicks. A satire involving miscegenation, the $400,000 production was co-produced by her husband Robert Nemiroff; despite a warm reception in the Windy City, the show never made it to Broadway.[7]

After a long battle with pancreatic cancer[8] she died on January 12, 1965, at the age of 34.[6] According to James Baldwin, Hansberry was prescient about many of the increasingly troubling conditions in the world, and worked to remedy them with literature. Baldwin believed “it is not at all farfetched to suspect that what she saw contributed to the strain which killed her, for the effort to which Lorraine was dedicated is more than enough to kill a man.”[9] Hansberry’s funeral was held in Harlem on January 15, 1965. Paul Robeson gave her eulogy.

Source: here.

Edward Snowden play in Dutch theatre

This Dutch video says about itself (translated):

October 18 2015

SNOWDEN is a blood-curdling thriller written by Allard Blom on whistleblower Edward Snowden, his mission, his bizarre story and its relevance for all of us. The title role is played by Cas Jansen. The play can be seen from February 2016 on in Dutch theaters. More info: here.

They see everything. The whatsapp messages you send to arrange a fun evening with friends. The email you send to your family. The recipe you’re looking for on Google. The text message you send to your loved one to say you love her. They see everything.

How to make a phenomenon that is as big as the global passion for collecting data somewhat manageable? Just like when being in a war one can not suffer along with a whole nation of victims, but like one can with one individual, so we will concentrate on Edward Snowden. But this time the war is being fought in our backyard, our living room, our bedroom and in the bedroom of our children. They see everything.

On 14 February 2016 I saw the play Snowden in the Leiden theatre.

There are two other main roles: Laura Poitras, maker of the award-winning film Citizenfour about Snowden. Myrthe Burger plays her, and all other female roles, including Edward Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills. And Glenn Greenwald, who first published Snowden’s information about massive spying. Simon Heijmans plays Glenn Greenwald, and all other male roles.

On the background of the stage, often computer screens with texts are projected. There are often flashbacks, so the play is not completely in chronological order.

The play may not add that much information about Snowden which was not already in the film Citizenfour. However, many of the people in the theatres may not have seen Citizenfour.

The play points out that Snowden, after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, decided to join the United States army, as was tradition in his family. He did that to prevent US Americans from being killed again like in 9/11. However, to his dismay, some of his fellow soldiers turned out to support ‘solutions’ like ‘Kill all Muslims, including their children‘. Snowden then joined the CIA computer branch. There, he found out that their computer networks were unsafe. Snowden‘s CIA bosses were not grateful, but hated him for that.

Then, Snowden started work for the NSA. When he found that the NSA violated United States citizens’ privacy, he complained. However, his bosses did not want to hear that.

Already in 2008, Snowden had plans to publicize the NSA‘s human rights violations. Then, President Obama was elected, and Snowden gave him the benefit of doubt to clean up the NSA. However, the NSA continued with their old ways.

When Snowden in 2013 heard NSA boss James Clapper lie in the United States Congress about supposedly not violating privacy, he contacted Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. They met secretly in a hotel in Hong Kong. Ms Poitras and WikiLeaks helped Snowden to get away from the hotel and possible kidnapping by US secret police. Get away, supposedly to Ecuador. But in practice, as his passport was withdrawn, not further then Russia.

Edward Snowden had not told anyone about his whistleblowing plans; including his girlfriend. Still, Lindsay Mills loved him, and later joined him in Russia.

The fight against massive governmental violations of privacy continues.

The court order to force technology company Apple Inc. to create a “backdoor” to its iOS mobile operating system is a substantial new offensive in the US government’s drive to spy on the data and communications of everyone in the world: here.

NEW YORK JUDGE RULES AGAINST GOVERNMENT IN APPLE UNLOCKING CASE Setting precedent for the current battle over the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone between the FBI and Apple. [Reuters]

Bertolt Brecht play on nazi Germany

This video from Britain says about itself:

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

1 July 2014

Drama Unit 2 2012, King Edward VI College, Stourbridge.

By Len Phelan in Britain:

More light on the darkness

Wednesday 13th January 2016

A revival of Bertolt Brecht’s chilling portrait of life under the nazis needs a clearer focus, says LEN PHELAN

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich
Union Theatre, London SE1

BERTOLT BRECHT’S reputation in this country rests largely upon productions of plays such as The Life of Galileo, Mother Courage or The Caucasian Chalk Circle, works in which he employs epic theatre techniques to “make the familiar strange” and thus lay bare the underlying contradictions of societies based upon ruling class exploitation and the ideological mechanisms underpinning it.

Written in the same period as these great works, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich is something of an exception in its abandonment of parable and historical revisionism to speak directly to audiences about contemporary events.

Premiered in 1938 in Paris, when Brecht was in exile from the Hitler regime in Germany, it’s a series of scenes which deliver short, sharp jabs at the nazi solar plexus and lay bare the brutality of national socialist reality.

It depicts a Germany which from the top — the judiciary, scientists, the teaching profession — to the bottom — the poor and the unemployed — is riddled with poverty, violence and the ever-present fear of betrayal.

Phil Willmott’s production at the Union Theatre effectively conveys the horrifying bleakness of that era, not least the consequences for those who openly resisted, and it points up the virulent strain of anti-semitic scapegoatism nurtured by the regime.

Thus we see a judge driven to distraction in his attempts to square the circle in the case against an innocent Jewish shop owner but who has to come up with a verdict which will satisfy the conflicting demands of the nazi hierarchy.

In another emotionally charged scene at the conclusion, a Jewish woman decides to tell her husband she is leaving to save his career as a clinician, while he assures her that her self-imposed exile will only last a few weeks as he hands her the fur coat she won’t be needing until winter.

That malign motif of the most intimate personal betrayal runs throughout. A school teacher and his wife whip themselves into a frenzy of paranoia over whether their son will betray them to the Hitler Youth, while a maid wonders whether her brownshirt boyfriend will use the same deceitful trick he employs to identify the “grumblers” in the dole queues on her.

Yet however laudable the efforts of cast and director are in realising Brecht’s dark and sardonic vignettes, this production doesn’t really answer the question Willmott poses in his programme note as to whether Fear and Misery is now nothing more than a “period piece.”

Rather than drawing on unattributed quotes from the Guardian facilely bemoaning the impotence of silent majorities in the face of motivated violent minorities in “Hitler’s Germany, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China and Cambodia under Pol Pot,” he might find Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov’s definition of fascism worth considering.

As early as 1928, he viewed it as “the dictatorship of the most reactionary elements of financial capitalism,” which not only carries out “an organised massacre of the working class” but in its foreign policy “cultivates zoological hatred against other peoples.”

As a Marxist, Brecht understood this definition of fascism and it implicitly underpins this hugely important play, with its depiction of war abroad and repression at home in pursuit of the nazis’ “guns before butter” policy.

And without it, his work does indeed come across as a period piece and the uncomfortable resonances it has with the rise of the ultra-right in France, Germany and Ukraine, or indeed this country, can only appear to be the consequence of inexplicable and irresistible phenomena rather than as the extremes resorted to by the ruling class to maintain their dominance.

Any interpretation which ignores that analysis ultimately confuses rather than clarifies understanding — but that shouldn’t stop you from going to see a well-produced piece of work and drawing your own conclusions.

Runs until January 30, box office:

Several of us from the World Socialist Web Site, Sybille Fuchs, Stefan Steinberg and myself, spoke for some time to Stephen Parker, author of a new biography of the German playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life. We posted a review of the work yesterday: here.

Play about poet Leo Vroman

This video is the trailer of the Dutch theatre play Hoe mooi alles (How beautiful everything).

On 16 December 2015, Hoe mooi alles was in the Leiden theatre in the Netherlands. It is about the life of famous Dutch poet Leo Vroman (April 10, 1915 – February 22, 2014) and Tineke, his wife.

There are two roles in the play: Kees Hulst as Leo Vroman, and Esther Scheldwacht as Tineke.

Hoe mooi alles, book coverThe play is based on the novel, also called Hoe mooi alles, by Mirjam van Hengel, written in close collaboration with Leo and Tineke. The book was supposed to come out on Vroman’s 99th birthday, but he died just before that.

The play is set at shortly before Vroman died at 98 years of age. The couple reminisces, especially about 1938-1947: the time between when they met and became engaged, and when they finally married. Tineke was of partly Dutch, partly Indonesian ancestry, and had recently come to the Netherlands to study at the same Utrecht university as Leo. 1938-1947 was the time of the second world war.

Before that war, Vroman, being Jewish, sometimes experienced anti-Semitism. After the war, in New York City, a doctor advised Vroman to have an operation to make his nose look smaller: ‘With such a Jewish nose, no employer will give you a job’.

On 10 May 1940, nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Vroman family suffered terribly from the fascists’ persecution. Leo fled the Netherlands on 14 May. Against all odds, he managed to reach England on a sailing boat. Tineke decided not to join Leo on that journey, for a complex of reasons, including expecting then it might be even more dangerous than the nazi occupation.

Soon, Leo Vroman decided to leave England for Indonesia, where he could finish his biology studies. Then, imperial Japan invaded Indonesia. That meant three years of Japanese prison camps for Vroman. Often, he came close to dying. Thinking about Tineke kept him alive. Along with small things, like a little mudskipper fish.

After the defeat of Japan, the Dutch government demanded that Leo Vroman should fight in another war: colonial war to stop Indonesian independence.

However, Vroman refused that. He wrote a famous pro-peace poem (also quoted in the play). He went to New York City. Eventually, he became a famous biologist in the USA.

In 1947, Tineke also came to New York City. It was illegal for her to go to the USA to marry. So, officially she came as a student. When she saw Leo after landing, she admonished him not to welcome her too enthusiastically, as authorities might see them.

One theme in the play is mutual feelings of guilt of the couple. Tineke felt guilty about not having joined Leo in fleeing the Netherlands in May 1940. Leo felt guilty about being away from Tineke for so long, and not returning to her immediately in 1945.

Nevertheless, this is a play about two people loving each other for many decades.

A review of the play is here.