mgw with M
world which occurred after Thatcher‘s election in 197‘). when it emerged that you could be heavily punished by funders for scrutinising the political world. Caught in this trap. the generation of Thatcher kids that went into the theatre made a virtue of necessity. They couldn’t talk about the big political changes out there. so instead they retreated to the relativistic politics of postmodemism. where having an opinion or moral stance on anything was uncool. Apathy was the new rock'n'roll. and ‘issues' were out. Instead they concentrated for material on subjectivised states such as sexuality. relationships and individual experiences of alienation. But these folks are of my generation. and that means they're getting on a bit now. There really isn‘t that much repression around the area of sexuality any more: people approach you and fess up to being heterosexual. bisexual. lesbian or gay in the first moment you meet them. It‘s pub rap as common as football. The idea. too. that folks are alienated and no longer able to communicate emotionally has been reiterated for too many years. I‘m reminded of Tom Lehrer‘s old remark here: “If people can't communicate. you‘d think the very least they could do is shut up.”
No. repression as it exists these days comes in the taboo shape of politics. You and I know that the questions not asked in polite society are about how much money folk earn. or the wasteful way we spend it. or how they feel about this pointless war. These things are banished to the unconscious. and have manifested themselves in almost entirely accidental political metaphors on our stages until recently.
And the change didn‘t happen with the hysterical. media- governed spasm of 9/] l. but rather. in its abhorrent foreign policy consequences. The wellspring of anger was there before 2001. but it truly burst forth when the neo-conservative coalition of l.abour/(‘onservative government uttered a couple of astonishingly spurious reasons to attack a country that had long since disposed of fundamentalist lslamic opposition in a manner even more ruthless than the L'SA. The anger at this is particularly evident in the generation of young people who I find myself frequently in contact with. A while back. I taught a session on Gregory Burke‘s 200] bit. (iaguror Way — a nihilistic but darkly amusing fringe piece. I was approached by a girl of [9 after the session. who asked. ‘Why do we have to read plays that teach us there‘s nothing we can do about anything‘." The girl's question would have been out of the ordinary five years ago. but in this generation of much more affirmative and demanding young people it's a standard. If the theatre is to attract these people. as either audiences or professionals. it must address issues of greater weight.
And does this mean theatre that teaches. or preaches'.’ Hardly. In a letter to this publication a few issues ago. lloward Barker deplored theatre that teaches. But theatre that asks real
22 THE LIST ‘()~.’M June 7034
questions. demanding an audience think about huge scary monsters such as how governments use war and the media to
cynical ends isn‘t preachy. it just assumes a reasonable level of
savvy in its audience. There’s nothing simplistic in the play"s representation of these issues. yet we‘ve long since dismissed a writer who brought Dundee Rep three (‘ritics‘ Awards and multiple nominations as somehow unacceptable.
Perhaps Dominic Hill’s production. which garnered awards for himself. actor John Bett and the big vote of best production. will go some way to breaking this resistance to serious questions and vital young audiences. .\'ow there aren‘t many places the Scottish middle classes can go where they‘re allowed to collude in the murder of a British police officer. Particularly not on the side of three misfits ruled out of society by age. race and class. Yet this is precisely what occurred at the denouement of Henry Adam‘s The l’t’oplt’ Mart Door. and
there was a lot of love in the room when the culprits got off
scot free. I‘d suggest there might have been more unease about this conclusion some years ago. yet this year. Adam‘s play won the Best New Play Award. Through most of its length. it concentrated on familiar themes such as alienation and the atornisation of folk sent to the margins of society. yet its constant connection with global events. the so-called war on terror. and anti Muslim racism never allowed us to escape from the real world outside the theatre. And its finale did subtly. through warmth and emotional contact with the characters. something quietly radical. even disturbing.
Bttt other forms of radical refusal to conform were manifested by purely aesthetic approaches. (irid lron’s 'l'liosv lives 'l'lml Moth won a deserved best actor (female) award
for (‘ait Davis in what might have been a conventional tale of
love loss and neurosis. but turned into a profoundly experimental piece.
All three of the pieces mentioned above mark a healthy response by the theatre to changes in the political structures in the world. liach in different ways showed courage. but also the capacity to grasp the grass roots. pragmatic reality that the theatre must now speak of the repressed politics of the current world. There‘s no doubt other theatre forms should continue to exist. It was gratifying to see the relatively populist Six [f/(lt‘k ('mul/vs pick up the Lyceum award for Best linsemble. and even this piece showed an admirable capacity to display working-class life without prior judgement. But the theatre. in any case. needs not to become narrowa focussed on politics. but simply a broad church. which might acknowledge many possible forms of the medium. With a national theatre in the offing. we‘d better hope so.
For full details of the awards, see Stage Whispers, page 64.
IS THAT THEATRE MUST SPEAK OF THE REPRESSED POLITICS OF THE CURRENT WORLD'
The People Next Door (above) follows the story of three misfits who murder a police officer. The killers escape conviction.