British new writing in an age of austerity

Aleks Sierz writes in The Theatre Times: Laura Wade’s Posh opens a month before the General Election and is still being performed in its immediate aftermath. Its main characters are part of the Riot Club, which is based on the real-life exclusive all-male dining clubs of Oxbridge, such as the Bullingdon Club (former members include Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, and London Mayor Boris Johnson). Posh features 10 young men, educated at public school and members of an elite undergraduate dining club, who believe that they have a right to rule. The rich and privileged—like Cameron and his government—represent a small and undemocratic elite class. Like a metaphor for the nation, this old class turns out to be inefficient, ineffective and cowardly. In its exploration of class and social advantage, Posh is a key cultural moment that accurately takes the temperature of the times. Behind its jokes and barbs, there’s a noticeable anger.

[Read full article on The Theatre Times website…]

Theatre review: The Austerity Playbook

From British Theatre Guide: Basically, this is a jazz musical about austerity and its effect on a North East city. It’s the brainchild of three North East academics.

The four specific characters—case studies almost—are the librarian (Rebecca Mann), her beloved library facing the threat of closure, the leader of the council (Donna Combe), battling against the inevitable cuts, Killian MacCardle (the refugee) facing increasing hostility from an angry populace and Rebekah Harvey as the police community services officer, also on the receiving end of the cutbacks. The only real interaction between the characters is love blossoming between the last two. Otherwise, as I say, they are case studies and viewed mainly separately.

We begin in 2012, when chancellor Osborne first introduced the austerity measures whose negative effects are as strong today as they were then. Partly naturalistic, partly stylised, the piece (without a set) uses masks, wigs, cardboard puppets, scribbled messages on paper, all fairly economical devices as if to emphasise what this is really about. At the start, audience members are invited to write their own protest slogans on blank sheets, though strangely nothing more is made of this.

The audience are also asked to clap hands and chant the kind of slogans used in protest marches.

[Read full review on British Theatre Guide…]

Anti-austerity movement We Shall Overcome brings music and poetry to Notts

From LeftLion: For Peter Yeandle and Lytisha Tunbridge, two of the Nottingham coordinators of We Shall Overcome, it’s time to face the reality behind the numbers of foodbank users and do something practical to help.

Together, they’ve coordinated four days of poetry, drama and music gigs over the first weekend in October. Donations at all six events will go directly to services in the city that support people in need, from those who are street homeless to families who can’t afford to feed their kids.

The decision to hold the gigs in October was made by the national We Shall Overcome spearheaders. Peter explains why it’s significant: “As the weather changes, sleeping out on the streets gets a whole lot rougher. There’s also a greater demand on food banks in autumn.” He hopes people will donate enough to help prevent food banks running out of supplies, and to make sure people sleeping on the streets are still supported when the crisp air starts to bite.

The line-up they’ve put together is impressive. Echoing the political spirit at the heart of We Shall Overcome, it’s all tied together with social commentary.

[Read full article on LeftLion…]

Alexander Zeldin: ‘Homelessness, mental health, austerity – they’re all interlinked’

From The Independent: The writer of a play that has won rave reviews for its portrayal of families living in temporary accommodation has revealed how he wanted to show the link between homelessness and austerity. Speaking ahead of a debate about homelessness at the National Theatre, Alexander Zeldin explained how he came to write Love, a play about three families struggling in cramped temporary accommodation.

[Read interview on Independent website…]

The Great Austerity Debate: Using the power of theatre, unions and communities to explore social policy

From Stronger Unions: ‘The Great Austerity Debate’ is set around a new play, ‘A Life in the Week of Megan K’. It is the result of collaboration between the Menagerie Theatre Company and Mia Gray and Susan Smith, academics from Cambridge University. The play centres around Megan Knowles, a single mother of two, as she tries to cope with working on a zero hours contract, a deficient social security system and financial hardship.

The first half consisted of watching the play which featured powerful and moving performances from a trio of actors: Bianca Stephens, John Shields and Caroline Rippin.

Then something remarkable happened. Under the deft handling of director Patrick Morris, the audience is invited to get involved.

Firstly, to share their thoughts and observations on what they have just seen. Then, the actors return to the stage – still in character – and the audience asks the characters (not the actors) questions that help gain an understanding of their respective situations and personalities. Finally, scenes are acted out again and the audience has the opportunity to raise their hand, shout “Stop!” and suggest a different course of action (I wonder if any of the audience will continue this practice when they go to their next, more traditional, theatrical outing?)

[Read full article on Stronger Unions website…]

Drama about Tories in crisis to play Birmingham during Conservative Party Conference

From Birmingham Live: A stage drama about the Conservative Party in crisis will play Birmingham at the same time as the Tory Party Conference.

Dead Sheep is about Margaret Thatcher’s downfall but is still highly relevant, about a government split over Europe, conflicts of loyalty and a fatal miscalculation by a Prime Minister.

It will star former Brummie Steve Nallon as Thatcher alongside Holby City star Paul Bradley as Geoffrey Howe.

Jonathan Maitland wrote the play in 2014 about how Mrs Thatcher sacked her Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe in 1989, thinking she had nothing to fear from a man whose speaking skills had been compared to those of a dead sheep.

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Making theatre in the midst of austerity

Jenny Hughes writes on Manchester Policy Blogs: How is austerity affecting actual theatre-makers caught up in this morality play, and how are they responding? Cuts to public sector spending, which provides essential support for institutional, community-based and grassroots theatre-makers nationally, are continuing to have a damaging impact on the theatre-making ecology.

Debates about payment for artists, the lack of socio-economic diversity in the theatre industry, the threat to arts in schools, as well as a growing realisation amongst socially-engaged theatre-makers that poverty might be an ‘elephant in the room’, have become more prominent.

Austerity leads to an inevitable narrowing of the stories that get told on theatre stages, and of the range of people that get to enact those stories. Here, austerity’s self-destruct button – the way it produces, as Blyth suggests, precisely what it is trying to avoid, economic insecurity and impoverishment – is being thoroughly activated.

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Alan Bennett: Tories govern with ‘totalitarian attitude’

From The Guardian: Award-winning playwright Alan Bennett has launched a withering attack on the Tories, describing their style of government as “quite close to a totalitarian attitude”.

Bennett said of the Conservatives: “It’s not merely that they want to be the governing party, but the only party, and that’s never been a part of British political tradition,” he said. “That stems from Mrs Thatcher: she did believe that Labour was wicked.”

He reserved his staunchest criticism for the state of British politics and the press, and attacked the Daily Mail for their coverage of Corbyn not singing the national anthem. “Half the royal family don’t even sing the anthem … they don’t even seem to know the words to Jerusalem. The notion that you are required to sing the national anthem in order to prove your patriotism, and if you don’t you’re not patriotic, is so absurd.”

“The lies on the front page of the Mail are so vulgar and glaring. Occasionally people say they like my work and then I see they have a copy of the Mail, and you think, ‘Well, how can you?’”

[Read full article on Guardian website…]