Pass Over, play on racism in the USA

This June 2018 video from New York City in the USA says about itself:

Antoinette Nwandu, Namir Smallwood & Danya Taymor Discuss Their Play, “Pass Over”

In “Pass Over”, Moses and Kitch stand around on the corner – talking smack, passing the time and hoping that today a miracle will come. A provocative mashup of “Waiting for Godot” and the Exodus saga, the play exposes the unquestionable human spirit of young black men who dream about a promised land they’ve yet to find. Join playwright Antoinette Nwandu, actor Namir Smallwood and director Danya Taymor as they discuss the premiere of their Lincoln Center performance.

By Mayer Wakefield in England:

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Theatre Review: Black lives matterUS police’s Facebook spying on Black Lives Matter little

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from Antoinette Nwandu’s blistering assault on US racism, says MAYER WAKEFIELD

Pass Over
Kiln Theatre, London

“IT COULD be worse. We could be dead.”

There is little to cling onto in the world that Moses and Kitch, the central characters in Antoinette Nwandu’s startling diatribe, reside.

Whether the street corner they inhabit is in Chicago, Atlanta or possibly Ferguson, Missouri, is not exactly clear. But Pass Over’s almighty message most definitely is.

Nwandu’s text is a riff on Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in which the two poor and isolated young black men trade barbs and share dreams of getting “off the block”.

Where Moses (Paapa Essiedu) has plans, Kitch (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) follows. But, with no means to fulfil those dreams, they have little more to do than perform overly elaborate handshake routines and reel off their “promised land top tens” – fantasy lists of consumer products.

Yet every moment of childish playfulness has the looming, omnipresent threat of police brutality hanging over it. Just the night before, Dread Ed “got smoked by the po-po.”

So when Mister (Alexander Eliot) arrives “all turned around” with an all-American picnic hamper and highfalutin “golly gee” expressions they are not sure how to respond to him. Is he a cop or a Mormon?

The exchange that follows is a microcosm for the long history of injustice suffered by black Americans, including a compelling discussion on the use of the n-word, which must be uttered over 200 times during the evening.

When Eliot returns as Ossifer, a cop very much in the mould of those who murdered Michael Brown, Tamir Rice or countless other black men, the logical conclusion seems all too predictable. Luckily, the heavens intervene. But not for eternity.

There is something slightly prosaic about the heavy symbolism – apple pie, guns and WWE wrestling – and biblical references, not least in the heavily referenced title, but Indhu Rubasingham’s production nevertheless packs a brutal punch.

The Kiln’s artistic director gives just the right amount of space to every individual moment, allowing the three performers to flourish without drifting into cliche. Eustache Jnr delivers a particularly astounding performance as Kitch, managing to seamlessly flip between wistful and impulsive.

With distant echoes of Marita Bonner and Gil Scott-Heron sounding through Nwandu’s poetic prose, Pass Over is a righteous cry of anger against the age-old tradition of state-sanctioned violence against black Americans.

Runs until March 21, box office:

Brussels, Belgium solidarity with Iraqi demonstrators

This 2018 video is the trailer of the theatre play Bagdad.

The BRussells TRibunal in Belgium invites you:

Fortstraat 35
1060 Brussels

11 February 2020

We are sure you may have heard something of what’s happening in Iraq right now. Thousands of people protesting in the streets, harsh repression, many dead and wounded, political chaos. But the media and politicians in the West hardly pay attention. Perhaps this has to do with the standard image that the Western media present about the Arab world: inclined towards religious extremism and unable to value human rights and freedom. Or with politicians who quietly support looting the Middle East of its natural resources, without sharing their ethical dilemmas with their voters.

Theatre-maker Enkidu Khaled (Brussels) and writer-activist Chris Keulemans (Amsterdam), who also created the performance Bagdad in 2018, now offer a special programme to give the audience a direct view
of the current revolution in Iraq. With images of the uprisings, stories of eyewitnesses, skype conversations with people who have spent weeks and months demonstrating peacefully at the Freedom Square in Baghdad since last October.

Guests: Muna Al-Jaffal, Noof Assi, Dirk Adriaensens en Tine Danckaers.

British actress Maxine Peake on voting Labour

This July 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Maxine Peake on Dinnerladies, Mike Leigh and More! | On Acting

The BAFTA-nominated actress talks about her prolific career across film and television, her craft, and Victoria Wood’s advice.

By Maxine Peake in Britain:

Election 2019

Why I’m Voting Labour: Maxine Peake, actor and writer

The arts are at the centre of a civilised society and Jeremy Corbyn knows this more than any other party leader

“IN ANY civilised community the arts and associated amenities, serious or comic, light or demanding, must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be regarded as remote from everyday life.”

When Arts Minister Jenny Lee made this pledge in 1960, who knew that in 2019 this strategy would still be as important as it was at its initiation and, more shockingly, that it is still being fought for.

On reading Labour’s charter for the arts, I have to confess I shed a tear to see in black and white a future for the arts that I have longed dreamed of writ large.

The arts are at the centre of a civilised society and Jeremy Corbyn knows this more than any other party leader, he knows that creativity and expression are basic human needs. The human race is a race of story-tellers and performers. Since our arrival on the planet we have used song, dance and art as a way to communicate and express ourselves. It is essential not only as entertainment but also for our survival.

Art as an outlet is linked intrinsically to our health and wellbeing and the main problem we face today is inclusion. It’s common knowledge that many arts venues can have hefty ticket prices and lowering these prices is a start.

But the real issue we have to tackle is getting young people engaged in the first place, not perpetuating the idea that the arts are only for a privileged few. If we start at junior-school age encouraging youngsters to participate in an art form — Labour’s promise that every child will have the opportunity to play an instrument at school is one way to start to break down these barriers — outreach work is essential.

Arts and creativity need to become the norm within the more disadvantaged areas of society. We cannot go round enforcing this, it has to come from the people and what many of our towns are missing is encouragement and empowerment.

The Towns of Culture is a fantastic way of raising people’s confidence and giving them the facilities and finance to show off their creative prowess. The Cities of Culture have been huge successes, giving the arts and culture in cities like Hull the chance to flourish and show the nation what they are made of. This investment has a continuing legacy, with benefits for all.

Funding the Arts Council properly is another huge step. It does extraordinary work but more money is needed if it is to change more lives and support grassroots organisations that can capture talent and interest in the young and old and nurture it.

Labour promises an arts charter for all that will ensure nobody is overlooked or ignored, whatever their background. No talent will be missed and no-one will be excluded from the mental health benefits that the arts bring.

If we let the Tories — who think of the arts as a luxury and not a necessity — win, the effects on the arts, and us all, will be devastating.

Irish revolutionary Constance Markievicz, new theatre play

This December 2018 video says about itself:

Constance Markievicz. 100 Years

Constance Markievicz was the first woman elected to the British Parliament in 1918. As an Irish Republican she would never take her seat there. Instead, her party Sinn Féin elected to form their own government in Dublin on 21st January 1919, commonly known as the First Dáil. Constance was born into a well off family. She sacrificed her wealth, including selling off her possessions, to help the poor of Dublin and to support the revolution taking place there against the British Empire.

By Gavin O’Toole:

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Theatre Review: Antidote to imperial amnesia

GAVIN O’TOOLE sees a timely reminder of the life of Constance Markievicz, titan of revolutionary history and female equality

Rebels and Friends

THE PROBLEM, observed Oscar Wilde, is that the English can’t remember history, while the Irish can’t forget it.

There is a reason for this, of course, residing in the collective trauma suffered by the Irish during 500 years of colonial oppression that eventually tore the island asunder.

But Wilde’s refrain could have been written about Constance Markievicz, who is largely overlooked in Britain yet revered in Ireland.

Her role, as an awkward reminder of Britain’s imperial past, undoubtedly helps to explain her relative invisibility during the centenary commemorations of the suffrage movement in this country last year as the first woman to win a parliamentary election.

Fortunately, Jacqueline Mulhallen’s play Rebels and Friends comes with superb timing, given how Brexit reminds us how little England remembers about the border it manufactured in Ireland.

It subtly explores the many contrasts that defined Markievicz’s life and that of her equally remarkable sister, Eva Gore-Booth.

Eva was a pacifist but “Con” — an artist who married a Polish count — was a revolutionary spared the firing squad for her commanding role in the [1916] Easter Rising.

She was the the first woman elected to Britain’s Parliament and the Dail’s first labour minister, while Eva was a suffragette and trade union activist in England, a poet who formed a committed relationship with another woman.

Originally performed in 1989 and revived for a new tour in Britain with the support of the Irish government and – to its credit – Arts Council England, Rebels and Friends is a thoughtful exploration of one of the 20th century’s great sibling relationships.

Mulhallen tells the sisters’ story in this two-woman show through letters they exchanged during Markievicz’s spells in British jails and there’s an explosive sibling chemistry between Dolores Devaujany as Con and Marianne March as Eva, well choreographed by Sian Williams.

They’re expertly directed by William Alderson, who magically creates an entire era without props.

Tours until November 25, details:

British National Theatre breaks with Shell oil

This 2009 video from London, England says about itself:

On Saturday January 3rd, Art Not Oil activists put on an impromptu performance in the foyer of the National Theatre prior to the matinee performance of Shell-sponsoredOedipus‘.

While a singer took to the stage (where there was a conveniently placed live microphone), another activist handed out leaflets, including a glossy spoof that looked like the National Theatre was inviting an open discussion about the morality of accepting oil company sponsorship. A third person joined in on cornet as security guards surrounded the singer.

After singing, playing and speaking their point for a few minutes, they ended the protest, to a gratifying round of applause from the theatregoers who had watched the performance with interest.

After leaving the building, the three activists and a friend continued to leaflet latecomers outside the main doors. The response was generally good.

A short film of the action is available in wmv and mp4 formats (mp4 can be read by the excellent free cross-platform player ‘vlc’ – a free download from videolan).

Find it here.

…where you can also find more on Art Not Oil’s ‘farewell to Shell’ on Jan 3rd and 4th, as well as how to tell the NT what you think of their corporate bedfellow(s).


The Art Not Oilers

And now, over ten years later …

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Friday, October 4, 2019

National Theatre drops Shell sponsorship in win for environment

THE National Theatre became the second major company to drop sponsorship from oil firms today after parting company with Shell.

Shell had been a “corporate gold” member of the National Theatre, giving the oil company access to exclusive perks and facilities at the theatre in return for £15,000 per year.

The news came just two days after the Royal Shakespeare Company publicly announced the end of its long-running sponsorship deal with BP.

Danny Chivers, from the activist theatre group BP or not BP, said remaining oil-sponsored institutions are “looking increasingly isolated.”

He said: “It is simply no longer acceptable for any cultural organisation to be promoting and supporting the fossil fuel industry in the middle of a climate crisis.

“It’s time the British Museum, Royal Opera House, Science Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Southbank Centre followed the ethical leadership of the National Theatre and the RSC — otherwise they seriously risk losing their legitimacy in the eyes of a public that is only becoming more concerned about the climate emergency.”

German theatres against neo-nazism

This German video shows the film, based on the play by Ödön von Horváth: Italienische Nacht (Italian night). 1965, Regie: Michael Kehlmann.

By Verena Nees in Germany:

Theatres in Germany take a stand against the far right

4 October 2019

A number of plays by the Austrian-Hungarian dramatist and novelist Ödön von Horváth (1901-1938) are currently being staged in leading German theatres. His down-to-earth and socially critical plays and novels, which took a clear stand against the rise of the Nazis and had success in the 1930s, assume new relevance today.

Horváth’s works (including Sladek, Italian Night, Tales from the Vienna Wood, Faith, Hope and Charity, Youth Without God) were banned in 1933 despite the author’s own efforts to adapt to the Nazis. He was expelled from Germany in 1936 and died aged just 37 following a tragic accident during his exile in Paris. Only later, during the period of student revolt in the 1960s, did his plays return to German stages.

In Berlin, two theatres, the Schaubühne and the Maxim Gorki Theatre, are currently staging pieces by Horváth. Italian Night, directed by Thomas Ostermeier at the Schaubühne, premiered last November. This summer, and in collaboration with the Salzburg Festival, Ostermeier also staged Horváth’s 1937 novel Youth Without God. It received its premiere at the Berlin Schaubühne on September 7.

Already last spring, director Nurkan Erpulat staged Youth Without God at the Maxim Gorki Theatre. Additional theatrical productions of the novel have been held in Münster, Dusseldorf and Bochum. On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Horváth’s untimely death, the Theatre Museum in Vienna honoured the writer with an exhibition, “I’m not thinking, I’m only saying it, Ödön von Horváth and the Theatre,” which ended in February 2019 and is now on show (until November 17, 2019) at the Deutsches Theatermuseum in Munich.

The staging of these plays and exhibitions is clearly a reaction by leading directors and dramatists to the current political situation, characterised by the renewed rise to prominence of ultra-right organisations, wars and social inequality. Countless German cultural institutions, including many theatres, have declared their support for the “Declaration of the Many” and made clear they oppose the provocations launched by the far-right and racist Alternative for Germany (AfD). The Maxim Gorki Theatre and the Schaubühne are both signatories to the statement, which begins with the words: “As creators of arts and culture in Germany we do not stand above things. Rather we have both feet firmly on the ground—the very ground upon which one of the worst state crimes against humanity was committed.”

The years in which German theatre was dominated by subjective navel-gazing, the complete distortion of classical works and postmodern gimmickry may be over.

Italian night

Italian Night, which premiered in Berlin in 1931, deals with the failure and divisions in the parties of the working class when confronted with the rise of the Nazis. When fascists march in front of a tavern in a southern German town and the situation becomes more threatening, a complacent social-democratic city councillor (in the original Horváth version a republican) goes ahead with a long-planned celebration, the Italian Night. The local bureaucrat excludes a young worker who regards himself as a Marxist and wants to physically take on the fascists with his friends. The fascists then surround the tavern and force the social-democratic bureaucrat to sign a statement declaring that he is “just an ordinary bastard.”

The accompanying brochure to the play includes a section from “A Letter to a Social Democratic Worker” penned by Leon Trotsky, in which he advocates a united front for defence between the SPD and the German Communist Party (KPD) to oppose the impending Hitler dictatorship. …

Notwithstanding … objections, Ostermeier’s staging of Italian Night is a very relevant appeal for a struggle against the return of fascism and at the same time a biting satire about the political bankruptcy of the SPD.

Youth Without God

In Youth Without God, Horváth deals with the opportunism of middle-class intellectuals. In 1935, the Nazis had already been in power for two years and were striving to inoculate German youth with militarism and racism—Goebbels’s propaganda machine was up and running. A teacher (excellently played in the Schaubühne by Jörg Hartmann) tries to come to terms with the Nazis in order not to lose his job and thus his civil servant’s pension. His opposition to the Nazis initially takes place only in the form of internal dialogue.

He corrects school essays in which openly racist thinking is propagated, such as “All negroes are deceitful, cowardly and lazy.” In Ostermeier’s production, the text reads, “All Africans…” and immediately we are in the present, in today’s world of fascist propaganda directed against refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

The teacher leaves the statement of student N in the essay, although he would prefer to cross it out. After all, one cannot correct something that has been aired on radio as being correct. When returning the essay, however, he cannot prevent himself from stating that Africans are human, too. N’s father, a master baker and ardent Nazi, complains to the school director. She also does not want to openly oppose the Nazis, although she had signed a peace appeal prior to 1933.

In an internal dialogue, the teacher gives vent to his contempt for the Nazis: “They hate all types of thought. They have only contempt for humankind! They want to be machines, screws, wheels, pistons, belts—preferably as ammunition rather than machines: as bombs, shrapnel, grenades. How dearly they desire to die on some field! Their dream from puberty is their name on a war memorial.”

At a military education camp, the murder of a student takes place in which the teacher is indirectly involved. When another student is falsely accused, the teacher plucks up his courage and tells the truth in court—he admits his complicity, loses his job and encourages others to resist as well.

This character bears a significant resemblance to Horváth himself and his own, unsuccessful, efforts to appease the Nazi Reich Chamber of Culture. Horváth withdrew his signature from a protest telegram to the P.E.N. Congress and his commitment to participate in the exile journal Die Sammlung. He was subsequently the subject of much criticism from anti-fascist writers.

The staging of Youth Without God at the Schaubühne adheres to the historical text. In an interview, Ostermeier said that his aim was not to transfer events to the present “one to one”, but rather to see them as a “parable” for “how to pluck up the courage to tell the truth and how this can have an exemplary effect on the spirit of resistance of others.”

In this context, the question of religion is raised, as Horváth’s title suggests. “God is truth”, the teacher explains at the end. Previously, in a splendid conversation with a pastor, he asked why the church is always on the side of the rich. “Because the rich always win,” the pastor says. “The rich will always win because they are more brutal, more deceitful, more ruthless.”

The piece ends with the journey of the African (in Horváth’s text, the Negro, as the teacher was secretly called by his students) to “Africa”—a synonym for solidarity with the marginalised and oppressed, be it the poor, Jews, other minorities or refugees from Africa.

Postmodern falsification

The version of Youth Without God shown at the Maxim Gorki Theatre takes an opposite direction. The postmodernist playwright Nurkan Erpulat and the screenwriter Tina Müller, who are highly praised in theatre circles, leave almost nothing left of Horváth’s analysis of petty-bourgeois cowardice faced with fascism.

Horváth’s text has been mutilated, cut down and rewritten. The protagonist is no longer a teacher, and the focus is no longer his inner dialogues, his turmoil and vacillation. Instead, the protagonists are his students who turn the tables on their peers and accuse the older generation of their parents and teachers of being hypocritical representatives of political correctness.

Horváth’s anti-capitalist and socially critical passages have been excised. The alleged language of the young people, alternating between insults and rage, in part seemingly naive but repeatedly just outright cynical, has less to do with reality and reflects much more the ideas of an upper middle class …

The ensemble of seven young actors play the school class, committed and full of verve. But one is left with the impression that the director seeks to counter Horváth’s own approach and presume that for young people today the question of left and right is no longer relevant and that everything can be reduced to man’s innate tendency towards egoism and violence.

In fact, we are experiencing a situation in which young people in particular protest against the far-right AfD and are increasingly expressing support for anti-capitalist, socialist policies.

In the version by Nurkan Erpulat, however, the adolescents shout slogans such as everyone has a “shitty part”, they all just think of themselves, and we must learn “that humans are also animals,” or in the spirit of Nietzsche, “In this system, will counts for nothing, against this system will is everything.”

The blame for racist opinions lies with opportunist adults who believe they have to teach young people social behaviour. The worst example, according to the student N, is a lecture by the teacher about the AfD in which the teacher claims that the AfD is “very, very dangerous. But nobody understands why.” Pupil Z responds that the teacher just wants to liberate himself from the “collective guilt” of all Germans in a “pseudo-left, I know everything better” tone.

This reflects the cynical attitude which is so admired in some media circles. For example, RBB24 radio editor Fabian Wall Meier described the Maxim Gorki staging as “powerful”, while denouncing the Schaubühne version as “boring, predictable and staid.” In the taz newspaper, Jürgen Berger accused Ostermeier of “conventional historicisation”.

Such claims are completely unfounded. On the contrary, Ostermeier’s production is much more authentic and penetrating, because it raises the historical parallels.

However, it also points to another weakness. Ostermeier’s version tends to explain the rise to prominence of the AfD on the basis of the alleged reactionary thinking of workers. Why does Ostermeier, as opposed to Horváth, cite at the beginning of the play a letter from a Nazi party supporter from Braunschweig in 1935, who thanks Hitler for eliminating unemployment? Jörg Hartmann appears in front of the audience in modern clothing and reads this letter as if it were his own opinion. He then changes his clothes and puts on the brown uniform of the Nazi era for his role as a teacher.

It is also no coincidence that Ostermeier and his writer Florian Borchmeyer have also cut the excellent point in the dialogue between the teacher and school director, which shows the relationship between capitalism and fascism. Commenting on the remark by the director, “We live in a plebeian world”, the young teacher says: “As far as I know, we are not ruled by poor plebeians, only money rules.” The director corrects him by declaring that in ancient Rome there were also rich plebeians.

The teacher ponders: “Of course! The rich plebeians left the people and together with the already somewhat decadent patricians formed the new official nobility, the so-called optimates.” And later he states: “When the rich plebeians in ancient Rome feared that the people could push through their demand to lower taxes, they retreated into the tower of dictatorship.”

Here, Horváth is clearly a step ahead of the Schaubühne production, making clear that dictatorships develop in response to the radicalisation of the population.

In reality, the political ascent of the AfD does not flow from any turn to the right on the part of the working class, but is rather a reaction by the ruling elite to a shift to the left and increasing social resistance.

Royal Shakespeare Company breaks with BP oil

This 23 July 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Sir Mark Rylance: Actor quits Royal Shakespeare Company over BP sponsorship
Sir Mark Rylance says he does “not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer or a tobacco salesman“.

Oscar-winning British actor Sir Mark Rylance has quit the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) over sponsorship funding it receives from BP.

Sir Mark accused the energy firm of obscuring its damaging environmental impact by supporting arts organisations.

BP sponsors the RSC’s ticket scheme for 16-25-year -olds.

Writing for The Guardian and campaign group Culture Unstained, he said: “Today I feel I must dissociate myself from the RSC, not because it is any less of a theatre company, but because of the company it keeps.

“I feel I must resign as I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive and unborn.

“The RSC will continue pushing BP‘s brand on to a generation of young people who have – in huge numbers through the ongoing school strikes – told adults they need to step up their response to the climate crisis now.

“Surely the RSC wants to be on the side of the world-changing kids, not the world-killing companies?”

Sir Mark added on BP: “Does this company have the right to associate itself with Shakespeare?

“Does it even have the right to have the word ‘British’ in its name when it is arguably destroying the planet our children and grandchildren will depend on to breathe, drink, eat and survive?”

The British star, who won the best supporting actor Oscar in 2016 for his role in Bridge of Spies, has called on the RSC to set a positive example for the future of sponsorship in the arts.

Like the BP oil fat cats are not fit sponsors for Shakespeare, their Shell oil fat cat colleagues are not fit sponsors for wildlife photography or classical music. Like there are also dodgy corporate sponsors at PSV football

However, today good news.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

RSC ends BP sponsorship

THE Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is ending its sponsorship by BP following pressure from school climate strikers.

The RSC’s £5 ticket scheme for 16 to 25-year-olds had been supported by the oil giant since 2013.

However, pupils involved in the climate strikes threatened to boycott the British cultural institution over its “sickening” links to BP.

In a letter to the RSC, the students said: “BP’s influence is nothing but a stain on the RSC.

“If we, as young people, wish to see an affordable play at your theatre, we have to help to promote a company that is actively destroying our futures by wrecking the climate.

“BP is jeopardising the futures of these young people they apparently care so much about.

“It is sickening that the works of Shakespeare are being associated with these events.”

Oscar-winning actor Sir Mark Rylance, an associate artist with the RSC for 30 years, cut his link with the theatre company in the summer over the issue.

A joint statement by RSC artistic director Gregory Doran and executive director Catherine Mallyon said: “Amidst the climate emergency, which we recognise, young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC.

“We cannot ignore that message. It is with all of this in mind that we have taken the difficult decision to conclude our partnership with BP at the end of this year.

“There are many fine balances and complex issues involved and the decision has not been taken lightly or swiftly.”

BP said it was “disappointed and dismayed that the RSC has decided to end our partnership early.”

English workers after Peterloo, theatre play

This 8 April 2019 video says about itself:

Rob Johnston on writing The Riot Act

THE RIOT ACT, Saturday 20 July, 1.30pm and 3pm, Manchester Central Library, St Peter’s Square, Manchester M2 5PD.

On August 12th 1842, just 23 years after the Peterloo Massacre, Lancashire cotton workers again marched in protest at appalling pay and conditions. Reaching Preston’s Lune Street the protesters were confronted by the authorities and read The Riot Act. A gripping mix of tragedy and humour from Rob Johnston and Breathe Out Theatre, who won the award for BEST DRAMA at Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2017. Performed as part of the Peterloo 2019 commemorations.

Video: Jo d’Orville and Jasmine Carter. Photography by Craige Barker.

By Bernadette Hyland in Britain:

Monday, July 22, 2019

Theatre Review

Riot Act, Central Library, Manchester

Excellent dramatisation of the revolutionary upsurge in the aftermath of Peterloo

1842 was a year of great hardship for workers across the north-west of England.

High bread prices, reduced wages and the dismissal of calls for universal … suffrage by Chartists led to strikes and disturbances in the summer.

In this new play, writer Rob Johnston has chosen events in Preston to tell the story of workers and mill owners as the political situation reaches boiling point, with Jake Talbot and Christopher Ward playing both the mill owners and the weavers.

Set on the night before a planned mass protest by striking workers, two weavers meet and discuss their lives and what could happen the next day.

It’s 23 years after the Peterloo Massacre and the older weaver (Ward) counsels the young man over using violence and his hopes for a better future.

But the illiterate George (Talbot) feels he has nothing to lose. He believes that the soldiers are just workers wearing uniforms and thus pose no threat.

Both actors then assume the roles of the mill owners Horrocks and Denholm. The former, the mayor of Preston, wants to use force to get the workers back at the mills and rejects Denholm’s liberal ideas.

Challenged about using the army to attack the workers, Horrocks proclaims that he has no scruples about reading the Riot Act.

The scene is set. On August 20 1842, the Riot Act is read in Preston. Four men are killed and many injured in what is the only occasion during that year that the military is used to attack workers with bullets.

Johnston’s play is thus a welcome relief from the constant imagery of passive workers that has been flogged to death around the Peterloo commemorations. Particularly striking is the referencing of women and children hitting back at the police and army with stones.

Riot Act, wordy and worthy, stands out from the Peter-lite fare that has been served up so far to mark the bicentenary of the Manchester massacre two centuries ago.

We need more plays like this that recover the revolutionary nature of the 1840s and the workers who made that leap forward in working-class history.

Stop BP polluters’ Shakespeare-washing

This 2010 video about the USA says about itself:

BP Funds Tea Party Climate Change Deniers

British newspaper The Guardian reports that BP and several other big European companies are funding the midterm election campaigns of Tea Party favorites who deny the existence of global warming.

After BP’s and other polluting corporations’ greenwashing, now ‘Shakespeare-washing’ …

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today, about Britain:

Two prominent actors refuse to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) as long as that theater company is sponsored by BP. Mark Rylance and Miriam Margolyes do not want their names to be associated with the oil corporation.

“I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive or unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare“, Rylance wrote last week.

Rylance, who was the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, eg, also wrote:

The arts sponsorship business is tricky. I would love nothing more than increased support for the imaginative arts, athletics and sciences of Britain. So I met with the environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, to find out if my suspicions about BP were wrong. “I worked closely with senior leaders in BP for more than a decade, intent on helping them radically change course”, he told me. “That work came to an end when I came to the incontrovertible conclusion that BP is neither sincere nor serious in addressing the climate crisis.”

He continued: “Together with other oil majors, BP has been accused of fully understanding the science of climate change as far back as the early 1980s, and downplaying and obscuring that science ever since, always in the short-term interests of its shareholders. Regrettably, its current leadership is stuck in the same pattern – all the time using philanthropy to hide its past and present culpability.”

The NOS article continues:

In addition to his roles for the theater, he [Rylance] has become famous worldwide in recent years through the Spielberg films Bridge of Spies, The GVR and Ready Player One. …

BP sponsors cheap tickets for young visitors to the RSC. Rylance thinks that is rich coming from BP, because young people have been protesting against climate change recently. “The RSC can give young people much more value than a cheap £5 ticket”, he reasons. “It could give them the support of Shakespeare in their stand against our addiction to energy dealers who would willingly destroy us for a quick quid.” …

The RSC is the second institute under fire due to links with BP. Earlier, other artists spoke out against the company’s involvement with the National Portrait Gallery.

This 4 June 2010 video from the USA about the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster is called The Dead and Dying Animals BP Doesn’t Want the Public to See.

By Jamie Johnson in British Conservative The Daily Telegraph, 27 June 2019:

Miriam Margolyes has joined Sir Mark Rylance’s boycott of the Royal Shakespeare Company over their sponsorship deal with BP.

The Bafta winning actress, who has starred in Harry Potter, Call the Midwife and The Real Marigold Hotel has said she will not appear in any RSC productions while the company kept its sponsorship deal with the oil giant.

“Mark Rylance is absolutely right in his stance and I support it”, she told the BBC.

“I would turn them down as long as they are supporting something that is doing harm to the world.”

A team of researchers is conducting the largest-ever simulation of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill to determine more precisely where hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil dispersed following the drilling rig’s explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010: here.

Theatre play on Google, secret police and privacy

This December 2018 video from the Netherlands is the trailer of the play #niksteverbergen by theatre company De Verleiders. It says about itself (translated):

Imagine a world where all the news you see is determined by your salary, your address and who your friends are. Imagine a world where you never come into contact with new ideas. And where you cannot have any secrets. Welcome to 2019.

The specter of Orwell’s 1984 is now the disturbing reality. Without us realizing it. Without us objecting! Because we have [supposedly] nothing to hide. De Verleiders show that everyone has secrets that should not be revealed. In fact, they show that you too have secrets that you don’t even know exist.

In a 12-18 January 2019 interview in Dutch VARA Gids magazine, Verleiders actor Pierre Bokma said it is as important to play in this play as in Shakespeare’s King Lear.

He said #niksteverbergen [nothing to hide] is about the malignant power of corporations like Google, Facebook and Instagram. De Verleiders had earlier plays on social problems, like the banking crisis and Dutch real estate fraud.

In the interview, Bokma did not mention the Big Brother-like powers of Dutch ‘intelligence’ services to spy on citizens.

That issue, however, led the Dutch right-wing government to become amateur theatre critics, attacking De Verleiders. De Verleiders had said that Dutch secret services, while spying on citizens, might put innocent people on lists of supposed ‘terrorists’.

Home Affairs Minister Ollongren, supported by corporate media, called that an insult to the ‘intelligence’ bureaucrats. Earlier, Ms Ollongren had promoted a law making Big Brother spying on citizens easier. The Dutch electorate rejected that law in a referendum. However, the government did not care about the referendum result, and abolished referendums.

We saw the play on 9 April 2019 in Leiden.

The play is up to date, with allusions to recent far-right FvD political party quotes.

There are five male actors in the play.

One of them, Pierre Bokma, plays the role of sixty-year old woman Ms Pip Zaal. She is a corrupt high-level government official, the chairwoman of the government committee on privacy. She supports D66, Minister Ollongren’s party. She constantly proposes Big Brother authoritarianism, supposedly made palatable by pseudo-liberal verbiage.

The four other roles are the four other members of the committee. Like a corrupt businessman, selling software to the Dutch ‘intelligence’ services, who stands to profit if secret services will be able to ruin privacy still more. He pretends to be in love with Ms Zaal, who falls for the cheating.

Then, a corrupt social scientist who changes the percentage in his public opinion poll of Dutch people wanting more power to the secret services from 35% to 85%, for profit.

Then, a corrupt military secret service officer. He regrets that Dutch Muslims have not committed a big bloody terrorist attack, with over forty dead, and ‘limbs hanging from trees’. ‘If these Muslims would not be such sissies, then they would provide a great pretext for more taxpayers’ money to the intelligence services!’

Finally, a disabled worker on benefits. Brought into the commission as supposedly a representative of the ‘common people’. He seems to be stupid, saying all the time that he does not understand the other commission members’ jargon. And talking racism and sexism.

Near the end of the play, he suddenly tells he is not who he seems. He is in fact an investigative journalist who will write an article on how corrupt the other committee members are.

They then decide to kill him. They do, mockingly shouting: ‘Khashoggi!’ They then cut him into pieces with a bonesaw.

Then, a press conference on the governmental commission on privacy’s final report. Chairwoman Ms Zaal is the only speaker. Part standard governmental anti-privacy propaganda. Part individual grief about being cheated in love.

Finally, an actor tells about Dutch disappeared internet privacy champion Arjen Kamphuis. Months ago, he mysteriously disappeared near a NATO base in Norway.

We should care about Arjen Kamphuis, the actor said. And about fellow fighters for internet justice who are in danger, like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

The crowded theatre gave the play a standing ovation.