ALAN BLEASDALE FEATURE
People aren‘t going. “Oh here we go. he‘s going to start preaching to I try not to preach. but inevitably I feel passionately about aspects of our society.‘
Aspects like the way people can feel so alienated from the world that they spray-paint their own houses and burn down their own shops. Far beneath the top of the tower block in On the Ledge. a city is tearing itself apart. ‘I can 't believe that I'll never believe in anything ever again.‘ says Bleasdale, quoting his old pal Elvis Costello whose music is also featured on the pre-show tape. ‘But not “believe” like in
‘You can’t blame the Conservative Party for everything — I would like to very much, but I know you can’t — but what you can blame them for is the sneering tace upon this society.’
becoming a member of — I believe in humankind. You see the generosity of spirit that people are capable of when ten'ible disasters occur: wouldn‘t it be good if we had that generosity of spirit when disasters didn‘t occur? You can‘t blame the Conservative Party for everything — I would like to very much. but I know you can‘t — but what you can blame them for is the sneering face upon this society: the loadsamoney philosophy. the fuck-you philosophy. the lack of morality.‘
The new play has been eight years in the writing. yet it has reached production more topical than ever as feature writers and leader columnists pack their papers with evidence of moral decay and a society bereft of responsibility. ‘I seem to have the most immaculate. but accidental timing.‘ admits Bleasdale. ‘I started writing GBH at the same time as I started writing this. I didn‘t know that when GBH was about to go out that Eric Heffer would die and there‘d be a by—election in Bootle and that Militant would put Lesley Mahmood up and the focus of this country would be on the by-election.‘
On that occasion. he was almost too topical for comfort. As the series was broadcast. ex— Liverpool Labour leader Derek Hatton got much mileage for himself. and no doubt his newly-founded PR business, by claiming that GBH was all about him. Bleasdale denied it at the time and is no less resolute now. ‘I wouldn‘t write about Derek Hatton.‘ he says without malice. ‘He‘s a hysterically one- dimensional character. If you get past the Boss suit. you‘ve got nothing left. He‘s one of those men who would strip naked and disappear. He‘s not interesting enough. Obviously there are initial aspects of a man who comes to power. I‘ve lived in Liverpool all my life. it‘s not as if I‘d not notice Militant in the mid-80s and not take advantage of it. but certainly the character as portrayed by Robert Lindsay. I don‘t think by the end of the series anyone would have thought of Derek Hatton. I don‘t want to sound as if I‘m boasting. but Michael Murray was a much more interesting character than Derek Hatton ever could be.‘
For it must be remembered that Bleasdale is a playwright. not a politician. He‘s in the business of asking pertinent questions. not providing pat answers and. while it‘s not difficult to see where his sympathies lie. he writes with an ambiguity. a complexity and an
independence that sets him apart from someone simply towing the party line. ‘It‘s not a writer‘s job to give answers.‘ he insists. ‘A writer‘s job
can: ‘Michael Murray was a much more interesting
character than Derek Hatton ever could be‘ is to provide questions in the hope that the audience might find their own answers. I‘ve always been faithful to that. but a lot of the image of me is of a man on a soap box. shouting at people.
‘When I first started out. I didn‘t have a political voice. This government politicised me. That‘s one thing I can thank Margaret Thatcher for. that she made me examine the society I live in. I‘m afraid I was a PE teacher who didn‘t give a toss. I was much more interested in handstands than Dickens. I woke up in my mid— to-late-2()s to what was happening here. I‘m fascinated by the fact that in the (ms and 70s a lot of writers were writing state-of-the-nation plays. Where are they now“? When it was really important. they all took one look at Maggie Thatcher and ran like hell. It does amuse me in a way that I‘ve become the focus of this attention and given all the labels like “Marxist millionaire“ and all that stuff and nonsense. I could sit here and give you a pretty good case for benign capitalism. that‘s how far to the left I am. I‘m really pleased that I‘ve stayed true to my values and beliefs. A lot of people haven‘t. Maybe the time will come when those values and beliefs will be seen to be what they are . . . at the point which I‘ll immediately retire!‘
.',r t i’
But before the politics. Bleasdale is an entertainer. From his briefcase he takes out a pile of newspaper cuttings. the kind of things that turn up in Private Eve‘s ‘True Stories‘ column; the headline that runs ‘Breathtaking Play By Asthmatic Girl‘: the report that begins. ‘Twice as many people turned out as expected on a lecture about schizophrenia‘. When the playwright gives public talks. his standard gambit goes. ‘One of the reasons I write is because I think the world is mad and if you don‘t believe the world is mad listen to these . . . and they‘re all true‘. Mental illness is actually a serious and recurring theme in Bleasdale‘s work. but it is often in the bleakest moments of his writing — Michael Murray‘s twitch. Jim Nelson‘s fear of bridges. Yosser Hughes‘s complete breakdown and. in ()n the Ledge. the Man-on-Ledge‘s desire tojump ~ that he is also at his most grimly funny.
It‘s the comedy that makes the social and human observations palatable. The ability to laugh in the face of fear allows Bleasdale to take us right into the heart of our social make- up. It‘s signiﬁcant that even after his major successes. he has seriously thought of returning to teachitig.lseeirig it as a way to encourage the same values of ‘decency. quality. fairness and manners‘ that his plays embrace.
As someone whose experience of drama before the age of l‘) was confined to TV farces. he has a modest and genuine crusading desire to attract a wide range of people to the theatre. ‘I loved teaching and I loved giving kids the opportunity to go somewhere they‘d never been before.‘ he says. ‘I got bored with the theatre of ideas and words — little people on the ﬂoor talking. I realised in the last twenty years. all three of my children are wrapped up in video and film and you have to encourage them to go to the theatre. When they go to the theatre they love it because you‘ve got the one thing that ﬁlm can never do which is three dimensions. They are real. living people out there that you can almost reach out and touch. That‘s been the
major ambition of this piece; whatever I
wanted to say socially or politically. the most important thing was to create an evening in the theatre that no one has ever seen before.‘
()n the Ledge. Theatre Royal. Glasgow. Tue 30 Mar—Sat 3 April.
Gary Olsen, Mark McGann and Jacob Abraham
The List 26 March—8 April I993 11