Saturday, 23 February 2013

If a member of the theatrical profession had an original political idea, it would die of loneliness

We attended a performance of One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on St Valentine’s Day. My wife had a yen to see it. As I had sat stony-faced through a Brian Rix farce at the Whitehall Theatre some 40 years ago, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the experience, despite all the rave reviews and awards and the fact that James Corden was no longer in the lead role. But, blow me down, it was very funny.

An extended scene involving an 83-year old waiter on his first day on the job had me crying with laughter (as they say), and Rufus Hound in the central role handled the interplay with the audience with aplomb. Died a bit after the interval, but picked up again towards the end.

If you haven’t seen it, the play is set in the seedy milieu of Brighton gangsterdom in 1963, which allows for lots of jokes about how things have changed since then – the idea of a gastro-pub and how dreadful it would be to live in poor, backward Australia are milked for all they’re worth. Then, about three-quarters of the way through, a female character looks forward to the unlikely prospect of a woman prime minister – cue an attack on Maragaret Thatcher for being a compassionless warmonger who waged war on the poor.

True, there was some laughter, but I suspect that was because the play had managed to build up a reservoir of affection during the first hour, and, as a result, we were all primed to laugh. I looked around at the rest of the audience: a representative cross-section of middle class Middle England personified - the sort of people who had voted for Mrs. Thatcher in droves at three general elections. To put it mildly, we were not a cool crowd.

I wondered what exactly the playwright's motivation had been? Had he wanted to insult the views of the very people the play was aimed at? Did he want us to change our minds about Mrs. Thatcher twenty-two years after she left the political stage? Or, because he was part of a milieu which is absolutely and entirely left-wing, had he somehow managed to blind himself to the fact that over 40% of the country had regularly voted for the lady? Or did he imagine that all TRhatcher voters were all boot-faced fascist provincials who’d never deign to set foot in a London theatre? Or maybe he imagined that everyone who voted for her was now dead.

The play stuttered a bit at that point, and never again quite reached the heights of the first half. But that nasty little interlude has left a bitter taste, and I've found myself wondering exactly what is wrong with these fucking people who, under cover of entertaining, informing or enculturing us, are seemingly unable to resist shoving left-wing propaganda down our throats.

What an arrogant, insensitive, ill-mannered, self-regarding bunch they are.

Now, if you're a politician or a journalist writing for some left-wing rag, fair enough - your audience knows what to expect, and, as long as you don't wander off the reservation and start defending Israel or the private sector or start raving about paying off the national debt, your readers  will probably agree with you. And if you write a play about, say, the plight of welfare recipients in Liverpool, or launch an attack on this country's ingrained racism, your audience shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves being hectored by a bleeding-heart socialist who believes that some demented Marxist sect or other has all the answers to our current ills.

But when I pay a lot of money to attend a light-hearted West End farce, I really do not appreciate my political attitudes being sneered at by some smug lefty scribbler. The vast majority of Britons supported the Falklands War, and still do, and - in case you hadn't noticed - Labour Prime Ministers have proved far keener on getting the British military in foreign conflicts, especially those which don't involve expelling foreign forces from British sovereign territory or anything useful like that.

Handily, for purposes of identifying the enemy, 37 theatrical folk wrote a letter to the Guardian (eager, evidently, to preach to the converted) last March, objecting to the appearance of an Israeli theatre group at the Globe Theatre. Here, for reference, are the names of those who seem to believe that artistic freedom should only be extended to those who share their drearily predictable views:

David Aukin producer
Poppy Burton-Morgan artistic director, Metta Theatre
Leo Butler playwright
Niall Buggy actor
David Calder actor
Jonathan Chadwick director
Caryl Churchill playwright
Michael Darlow writer, director
John Graham Davies actor, writer
Trevor Griffiths playwright
Annie Firbank actor
Paul Freeman actor
Matyelok Gibbs actor
Tony Graham director
Janet Henfrey actor
James Ivens artistic director, Flood Theatre
Andrew Jarvis actor, director, teacher
Neville Jason actor
Ursula Jones actor
Professor Adah Kay academic, playwright
Mike Leigh film-maker, dramatist
Sonja Linden playwright, iceandfire theatre
Roger Lloyd Pack actor
Cherie Lunghi actor
Miriam Margolyes actor
Kika Markham actor
Jonathan Miller director, author and broadcaster
Frances Rifkin director
Mark Rylance actor
Alexei Sayle comedian, writer
Farhana Sheikh writer
Emma Thompson actor, screenwriter
Andy de la Tour actor, director
Harriet Walter actor
Hilary Westlake director
Richard Wilson actor, director
Susan Wooldridge actor, writer

As the Observer theatre critic, Susannah Clapp, once put it: I cannot think of a single time when I have sat in a theatre, and been struck by the idea that what I'm watching is coming from the right.

Next time I meet a member of the theatrical profession, I may be tempted to follow Auberon Waugh's advice to those who find themselves being introduced to a modern architect, i.e. don't give them the benefit of the doubt - just slap them. 


  1. Am I the only one who has noticed that attacks on Lady Thatcher seem to have increased in both frequency and bitterness recently, which seems odd as it is now 22 years since she left the stage? It's as if all the luvvies and lefties are only just working up the courage to have a really vicious go now that they sense that she is not in a condition to stick up for herself.

    The alternative to a resentful silence is to yell "Rubbish" during the performance. Bad manners, I know, but a few years ago it made me feel a bit better for having forked out £80 against my better judgment for tickets to go to see Accidental Death of an Anarchist and being forced to sit through some egregious off script ad libbing about how unkind we were being at the time to the IRA.

    I hate to think what the nasal, face-screwed-up, rage of Caliban forces of compassionate loathing will get up to when the old girl pops her clogs.

  2. No, you're right - the anti-Thatcher attacks are increasing in frequency and nastiness. I suspect that's partly because lefties know - in their hearts - that the Coalition government isn't right wing, and that, as Cameron has failed to make any sort of connection with voters in the way Thatcher did, he really isn't a credible long-term bogeyman with which to frighten little liberal kiddies. Also, they've realised they probably soon won't have Mrs. T to kick around any longer, so they're releasing their venom while the opportunity's still presents itself.

    Congratulations on making your feelings known during the performance. I'm not sure I'd have the courage - besides, I try not to embarrass Mrs G in public these days!

    Like you, I'm dreading Mrs. Thatcher's death, because we'll no doubt find ourselves staring into the deranged, hate-filled soul of the Left, and it won't be a pretty sight. Hotels should organise "No TV, No Wi-Fi, No Lefties" holidays within 24 hours of the Great Woman's death so sensitive conservatives can escape all the ensuing ugliness.

  3. OTOH when Mandela hangs up his boots it'll be wall-to-wall tributes on the BBC for days on end: there'll even be 2 minutes silence on the News Quiz. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if we get the equivalent of what I dimly remember in 1952 when the king died: solemn music from all stations and black borders on newspapers when the death was announced.

    1. And no doubt, his passing will be marked by mass rioting, looting, rape and murder in the criminal hell-hole that is modern South Africa. 18,000 murders a year, plus 18,000 attempted murders, and truly horrendous rape figures - especially when it involves raping children, a popular national pursuit. Rainbow Nation, indeed.

      I'm still annoyed that they cancelled Antiques Roadshow when he was released.