POLITICAL SATIRE A’BODY’S ABERDEE Dundee Rep, Sat 3—Sat 24 Nov.
On the day that Henry Kissinger won the Nobel peace prize, the satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer announced his retirement from his trade. Asked why, he’s said to have replied that reality had now outdone the most grotesque imaginings of the satirist, so he wasn’t required anymore.
This is a shame. Whenever grotesque and distorted ideologies trumpet madly about such things as freedom and democracy before committing mass murder (sound familiar?) there’s ample scope for satire. Fair enough, though, the world seems at the mercy of a small group of zealous fundamentalist ideologists at the moment, and Mr Bin Liner and the Teletubbies are nearly as bad as these bankers. The current media- inspired fear from America seems to be of the ever-present dangers of Amtrak, though if the Yanks had travelled on our privatised railways, they’d realise that there are more dangerous situations.
Yes, a mad world, my masters. But maybe media-inspired madness
starts lower down the order than with
these world affairs. There’s no shortage of hypocrisy and tub-thumping in Don Paterson’s new satire, which finds in local politics the very grotesqueries so easily seen on the world stage. Here a young public relations officer appointed to the council finds himself defending all manner of corrupt practice from his employers. The spin is largely disseminated from the offices of Sir Menzies McManus, a local newspaper tycoon and power-mad megalomaniac. As a jobbing journalist, I’m sure I couldn’t recognise any such figure in the real
‘This PR guy, Jim Hughes, finds himself increasingly disillusioned by these goings-on in the council offices,’ says director Sandy Nielson. ‘At one point a member of
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue13-Sat 17 Nov.
Every time the subject is broached. there's been trouble. Scorsese's Last Temptation. The Life of Brian. even the profoundly anodyne JOSUS Christ Superstar have courted controversy. as if somehow a tiny fragment of the furore that surrounded the man 2000 years ago endures. Steven Berkoff's award-wmning MesSia/i. a radical dramatic portrayal of Jesus as freedom fighter and expert publicist. is no exception. especially at a time when religion and its interpretation has proven more dangerous ground than ever
‘I see him as a man dedicated to harnessmg together the warring factions of lsrael.’ says writer-director Berkoff. “to become the MeSSiah so that he can end all the strife and bloodshed: and also a revolutionary like Castro or Che Guevara. It's very like what's happening today: there's a need for a mesSiah. particularly in the Israel of Ariel Sharon.’
Currently touring. Berkoff's uncompromismgly political approach
Bondage indiscipline at Dundee Rep
the council has an S&M parlour built in his house, and they explain it as a “Special needs centre security project”. It’s made worse for Jim by the fact that his partner is a member of the council opposition.’
It seems a fortuitous time to speak of such matters, and Nielson feels he's got the script for it. ‘Don’s got a great ear and eye for this kind of thing, it’s a cartoonish sort of play, but everyone in it is recognisable; it verges on caricature, but it’s also quite real. It’s subtitled A Scottish Travesty and it really is quite a vicious and
stinging attack on local authorities. If you think about it
has faced excommunication from some of British theatres major institutions. ‘lt's disgraceful that they haven't given this the opportunity to be put on.‘ says Berkoff. 'lt's a big production. it needs a subsidised theatre. We've had to fight for funding and lost money. In a way it's been like a messianic struggle in itself.‘
Whether it's the current political climate or that the subject of .Jesus is destined to be forever taboo. Berkoff is adamant that. for Messra/i's
long enough you could feel very angry, but I think there’s plenty to laugh at.’ Well, if you don’t laugh, you cry. (Steve Cramer)
Berkoff plays Christ. Again.
detractors. the loss is ultimately their own. 'There's nothing to hate. it's a memorial. a testament to a peace- loving person. simple wisdom. basic insight. It's jealousy. That‘s all. It's a fantastic show; places like the National or the R80 are fearful of anything that might outshine their own product. With the reviews it's had. and my track record over the past three decades. they could have said Sure. have six weeks. Instead. they'll put on anything but.‘ (Olly Lassman)
Stage Whispers Talk of the green room
WHY DO WE have theatre? What is its majOr strength in contemporary Culture? LeaVing aside. for the moment. the immediacy of in-the-ilesh performance. which at its best is far superior to any other manifestation of drama. the theatre has the potential to explore issues of immediate concern to us. creating a free space in which debate can take place and alternative Views can be aired.
This OCCurs. in part. because of the theatres relative impoverishment as an artform. Without huge commercial interests at stake. the theatre is under less preSSure to reiterate the mainstream Views trotted out on the box and in the cinema. Given all this. it is Surprising that the theatre has made so little response to recent political events.
7:84 being political in Caledonia Dreaming
Don‘t get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that the larger theatres should uproot long- planned seasons in favour of abruptly staged agitprop: this would be neither practical nor adVisable. But I do feel that some effort might be made. even in these spaces. to accommodate a fringe reaction to the Current events in Afghanistan. At the very least. there are. in the events unfolding nightly on the telly. many opponunities for a bleak strain of satire.
7:84 has promised to contribute to the debate through its newspaper theatre'. raismg the pOSSibility of something more affirmative than its recent fuzzy- round-the-edges pelitics. whicrl has tended to drown the pOSSibilities of alternative action in a mire of post-modern relativity. But what of other companies? The Situation is tailor-made for alternative politics. With so little scope for this elsewhere. yOu hope that the theatre WI” foster a debate soon.
I—-l:3 NOV 2001 THE LIST 59