Theatre in Wales

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Anger and Grievance in Glasgow & Hampshire

Theatre of Scotland

Brexit Shorts: A L Kennedy & David Hare with Headlong , The Guardian , June 21, 2017
Theatre of Scotland by Brexit Shorts: A L Kennedy & David Hare with Headlong Carwyn Jones in 2016 at one of his meet-the-citizenry Q&A meetings was asked as to Westminster leadership ambitions. His response was immediate. Cardiff Bay was an end in itself, not a stepping-stone to the next tier of government. It might also be added that ministerial tenure in Cardiff is likely more stable than its counterpart a hundred and thirty miles east. Much the same was splashed across the media of the weekend of June 10th-11th. Ruth Davidson should leap into the muddle. Davidson has said that her hope, and she is without ministerial experience, is to be First Minister in her own country. But the automatic assumption that Westminster trumps all is revealing.

“Permanent Sunshine” by AL Kennedy is an opportunity for pro-EU Scotland to make an artistic mark. It does not really live up to the challenge. Scott Reid storms the streets of an empty Glasgow in a mesmeric performance as Chummy. The script shows the fallacy that mastery in one writing form is transferable to performance. In spirit owing much to “Trainspotting” the monologue has an explosive colloquialism but at the cost of rhythm and cadence.

Chummy's first words are “Haw. Nightmare, eh? You and me, eyeball to eyeball. How very dare I. What’s next? Fisticuffs? Swearing? Fae me? Faraging swearing?” In the real country of Scotland the Conservative Party has regained a small part of the hegemony that it held for decades. In fiction “Course you dinnae know what I’m talking about, you’re not me. And you think empathy’s optional.” Chummy, like Renton, is given an unlikely power of expression and gets in the old anti-Edinburgh gibe. “We all get BoJoed? When Scotland didn’t vote for that? When we’re no scared (English) of everyone we have not taken tea with.” Nothing to do with Europe the 45th President is hauled in for insult.

After rage on the streets David Hare is on ground he likes, a garden of loveliness in Hampshire. An Arcadian garden on the borders of Wales was the setting for his Iraq play “the Vertical Hour” (reviewed here January 2008.) Kristin Scott Thomas is intriguing casting for “Time to Leave.” She spent much time in “the English Patient” recalling her garden, the setting for a half-hour of film which the writer dumped. Scott Thomas is an ambiguous presence here, not really the solid bourgeois of the Shires where the flags of St George fly in their thousands.

Dominic Dromgoole some years back wrote a vexed essay about Hare. In particular he deplored the way the whole thing got wrapped up in an aphorism that sounded good but was in fact hollow. But here Hare is on to something. His surrounding text for the newspaper does not understand politics but he gives his character Eleanor Shaw a final line “We voted to leave Europe. But that’s not what we wanted. We wanted to leave England.” It is of course an English “we”. One of the notable features of the nativists, when they are spoken to, is the implicit sense of ownership of Scotland in particular.

Eleanor touches on the subject. She is a Hare character, the woman of resigned experience. Her father died in Northern Ireland. “They say we may lose Scotland.” This was written before 8th June. “I say you can’t lose what you never had.” Hare cannot but have his character touch on the state of recent years but it has small depth. The bins of Winchester are now collected fortnightly. The playlet would have had greater texture had Eleanor been a prison visitor or mental health worker. The no-more weekly bin emptying is not the worst of depredations. But it is an emblem for nostalgia.

But Hare gets aspects right. One is the two-tribe division where one side has marginal or no social contact with those on the other side. Eleanor's hairdresser tells her “It’s a funny thing, it’s those of us who are least affected that feel most strongly.” The second one is the selective history. “The common market was all right when it was six countries with a northern culture – thrifty, hard-working – but it was bound to fail once the Mediterraneans flocked in.”

There is the grain of grievance for a Britain hard done by continentals who do not play by the rules. But Hare glances across an aspect of the present condition. “You see, it’s the anger, isn’t it? That’s what it’s about. It’s about the anger. It used to be the young who were angry. Now – funny – it’s the old.” Hare cannot help but see the division through party lines “It used to be Labour who wanted change. Now – funny – it’s the Conservatives.” But that is the core of it wrong. Europe is not a left-right issue. Both the main parties are split. For every sovereignty-adorer there is a siege economy-promoter. The political secretary in the Labour leader office hailed the rejection of the EU as a first victory against the system. Little noticed outside the Party the local constituencies threw out every attempt to parachute her into a safe seat this June. But the anger is right. It is a major social pathology of the age. One in six of us is angry some, much or most of the time. Now there is a subject for a theatre writer.

Four mini-play monologues down and five to go. The lack of dogma is good but this is looking like it is going to be a subsidised theatre-Guardian project. That means a careful playing within boundaries of safety.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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