There are a few productions on in London at the moment that are bang-up-to-date with what’s happening in the current political sphere.
One could argue that most plays are “political” in the sense that they reflect, in some way, the society of the time they were written. Some playwrights, like Shakespeare, set their plays in other countries in order to cast a critical eye on the behaviour of court and those in power without causing offence to the reigning British monarch – a treasonable offence back then, often punishable by death!
Others, like Arthur Miller, have used events from a different time period to comment on a particular government or administration. His play, The Crucible, uses its central story of the Salem Witch trials of the late 17th century, to draw parallels to the interrogations of “communists” during the McCarthy era of 1950’s America and the fear and hysteria that ensued.
Listening to the radio this morning, these were the items that dominated the news:
- There’s a parliamentary scandal, currently being investigated, that children from care homes were abused by members of parliament and politicians connected to a paedophile ring.
- There’s been an escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine which is getting worse by the day as the cycle of killing and retaliation continues.
- Combatting the threat of terrorism vs privacy issues are at the forefront of debate at the moment, with the culmination of the Leveson enquiry and subsequent court case into the hacking of mobile phones by journalists of certain newspapers. Privacy is also at the heart of revelations by Edward Snowden as to the mass-collection of data that takes place by government agencies.
With these issues high on the political agenda, I’ve cast my eye across various theatre productions that are tackling these subjects. If you know of any more to add to this list, please let me know.
Great Britain – Richard Bean‘s new play, currently running at the NT until 23rd August, is a satire that looks at the modern-day press, the police and the political establishment. The actors rehearsed for months in secret while the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and 6 others was taking place, with the ending of the play not written until the outcome of the trial was made public. The play, whilst not a direct depiction of those events or characters involved, nevertheless provides a sharp satirical comment on the tangled relationship of these three “Great British” institutions. It will transfer to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket from the 10th Sept.
Whistleblower – a new play by another Richard (Richard Roques this time) about Edward Snowden’s life and the events leading up to his decision to reveal to the public the full extent of the government agencies in the US and Britain “spying” on and collecting the personal data of millions of people. You’ll never look at smartphones and social media in the same light again. There are 3 more weeks to catch this very topical play at the Waterloo East Theatre. For more details about the play, cast and crew click here or for tickets, dates and venue info click here.
Calder Bookshop Theatre – this little venue gets a mention because it specialises in political plays and books. It still bears the name of its founder – John Calder (Samuel Beckett’s publisher) – although he no longer runs this independent bookshop which has a theatre space attached and runs a weekly cinema club showing films by directors such as Ken Loach. There’s also lots of second-hand books to browse through. It’s a lovely space – warm, welcoming and close to my heart as I’ve performed there twice now. Their latest production (which I was in) deals with the cycle of violence between Israel and Palestine and there’s a possibility of extra performance dates happening in August (so I’ll keep you updated). Even without my non-too subtle plug for a production I was involved in, this independent bookshop/theatre venue continues to programme events, performances and films in keeping with its political and social ideals, often producing work which is relevant to the political issues of the moment. Click here for their website.
“A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance”. Dario Fo.…”the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”. Hamlet’s advice to The Players.