Posts Tagged ‘Pantomime’

Poverty and the Insensitivity of the Queen’s Speech

December 30, 2018

A few days ago Mike put up an article reporting the backlash against the monarchy that had occurred as a result of the Queen’s speech. I never saw it as I find the speech horrendously boring, but I gather that Her Maj had sat in a wonderful gilded room, complete with a priceless gold Erard piano, and urged us all to be tolerant of each other at this time. People were naturally more than a bit annoyed to hear someone, surrounded with the kind of wealth most people can only dream about, telling the rest of the country in effect that they had better respect their superiors when poverty is massively increasing and people are fearing for their jobs, their homes and whether they’ll be able to put food on the table for their children tomorrow.

They also resented the fact that the royal family, as rich as they are, are subsidized by the rest of us through our taxes. Mike in his article reproduced a number of tweets critical of the monarchy, pointing out that the Queen’s comments that we should put aside our differences in the national interest was the type of slogan the Tories come out with.

One of the tweets by Mark Adkins went further, and said that it wasn’t just the monarchy itself that was the problem, but what they represented: the British class system that made breeding more important than anything else, and which concluded ‘This world view helps justify racism, snobbery and the demonisation of the poor. A Republic is long overdue!’

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/26/insensitivity-of-queens-speech-prompts-backlash-against-the-monarchy/

I’m not a republican, but this did show that the Queen was seriously out of touch. She could have made her speech in more sombre settings or even actually on the front line, as it were, at a food bank to show that she was at least aware how much some people were suffering. It all reminded me of the comments the 19th century German socialist writer Adolf Glasbrenner made about the Prussian monarchy of his day in his piece Konschtitution. The piece is supposed to be an explanation of the German constitution by a father to his son, Willem. It’s written in the Berlin dialect, and is written from the perspective of someone, who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s like some of Tony Hancock’s speeches, when he started talking about aspects of British constitutional history, that he obviously didn’t know anything about. Like his remarks in the episode ‘Twelve Angry Men’ about Magna Carta being a poor Hungarian peasant girl, who was burned at the stake in order to get King John to close the boozers at half past ten. Or like some of the rants by Alf Garnett about how great Britain is, but without the racism.

Amongst Glasbrenner’s skewed explanation of the Prussian constitution are his remarks on the monarchy. These include:

‘The King does, what he wants; and against that, the people do, what the kind wants. The ministers are therefore responsible for nothing happening. The king rules quite irresponsibly… Should the people come to penury or starvation, so is the king bound, to say he’s sorry.’ He also declares that the form of the state is ‘monarchical-pulcinelle’, the latter word a character from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. The commedia dell’arte was one of the sources of the modern British pantomime as well as Mr. Punch in the Punch and Judy show, so you could possibly translate the phrase into a British context by saying it was ‘monarchical-Mr. Punch’ The piece also has a line that ‘without Junkers (Prussian aristocracy), police and cannon freedom isn’t possible’.

Although it’s a spoof on the Prussian constitution and the classical liberal conception of the state, which was that it should simply guard against crime without interfering directly in society or the economy, it obviously has some relevance to the Tory conception of politics. This also stresses the monarchy, strongly rejects any kind of state interference, and also believes that freedom is only possible through the aristocracy, the armed forces and the police. Although the police aren’t being supported so much these days, as the Tories want to save money by cutting their numbers so that they protect the rich, while the rest of society are left to defend themselves from crime. Perhaps they still think we’ll all hire the private security guards like the Libertarians and Virginia Bottomley were so keen on as replacements.

More ominously, in the present situation over Brexit it also reminded me of a poem by the Liberal Serbian poet Zmaj Jovanovic, ‘The National Anthem of the State of Jutunin’ I found quoted in Vladimir Dedijer’s Tito Speaks (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1953). This is a memoir of the former Yugoslav dictator’s life and his break with Stalin and the Soviet bloc. It was printed in the last issue of Borba, a Communist magazine, when the Yugoslav king, Alexander, seized dictatorial power, dissolving parliament and banning political parties.

O thou, Holy God, keep our King alive
In good health, strong, proud and glorious,
Since this earth has never seen, nor shall
Ever see a king equal to him.
Give him, O Lord, the holiest gifts from heaven:
Police, gendarmeries and spies:
If he doesn’t fight the foe,
Let him keep his own people under his heel.
(p. 69).

I’m not accusing the Queen, nor the Duke of Edinburgh or anyone else in the royal family of planning to seize power and rule like an absolute monarch. But I am worried about Tweezer’s plan to put 3,500 troops on the streets in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Under the Conservatives and New Labour Britain has become a very authoritarian society, including through the establishment of secret courts, where you can be tried in camera without knowing the identity of your accuser and with evidence withheld from your lawyers, all in the interests of national security. We now have a private company, the Institute for Statecraft, publishing smears in the media against Jeremy Corbyn and other politicians and public figures in Europe and America for the British and American secret state. And Mike reports that Tories are now requiring EU citizens or the children of EU citizens resident in England sign up to a central registry, which may make their information available to other public or private bodies without telling anyone which. This is another very disturbing development, as it seems that the British state is determined to leave them open to official persecution. And I’ve said in a previous blog post that a priest at my church, who ministered in Australia, is worried that if Corbyn gets into power, the Tories will try to get the Queen to dismiss him, just as they had her to do Gough ‘Wocker’ Whitlam in the 1970s.

I support the monarchy, but it needs reform and the Queen’s lack of tact in showing off her wealth at a time of great hardship has only made matters worse. And I’m afraid the increasing authoritarianism of the Tory and New Labour governments could discredit the monarchy if and when there’s a backlash.

Private Eye from 2001 on the Bizarre UKIP Election Pantomime

March 8, 2016

With the Kippers trying to tell Londoners that it’s all the fault of foreigners from Eastern Europe that there’s a shortage of truly affordable homes in London, I thought I’d post up this piece from fifteen years ago in Private Eye for 20th April – 3rd May 2001. It describes the really weird antics staged by UKIP prior to an election debate at the University of Brighton.

As the election looms, the antics of the staunchly Eurosceptic UK Independence Party grow even more surreal.

On 1 April members of UKIP took part in a cross-party debate held at the Sallis Benney Theatre part of the University of Brighton, to discuss the motion: “Britain would be better off out of Europe”.

To get those present in the mood, including Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown Des Turner and UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, the evening kicked off with a performance of a pantomime written, produced and directed by UKIP’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hove, Richard Franklin, entitled “The Kween’s Speech”.

Some of the more traditional party members in attendance were quite taken aback by the political satire starring local actress and gay icon, Dora Bryan, which included a scene in which Black Rod indulged in a lewd sexual act with a fictional Faery Queen of England.

This is really quite bizarre, considering how the vicious hatred of gays in much of UKIP and the weird rants against them that members of the party have sputtered in the recent past. Remember when one of them claimed that the storms that battered Britain’s coasts that year were ‘God’s judgment’ on us, because we’d legalised gay marriage? And Farage and the Kipper leadership as a whole have come across as very staid and traditional in their attitude to the monarchy. It always seemed to me that they were arch-Tories there too, with the characteristic defensive and exaggerated respect towards the Queen.

I realise that there have been some gays in UKIP, including a gay section of the party at one point, and that Brighton has a reputation of being one of the centres of gay life in Britain. It’s still very strange – something you’d expect from a radical student production of the 1960s or ’70s, rather than the dawn of the new millennium; and more suited to the Edinburgh Fringe than the rather more staid atmosphere of a serious political debate about Britain and Europe.

Possibly this is something that may even be an embarrassment to the party today, an unwelcome reminder of some of the shockingly subversive attitudes of some of its members in the past. In which case, it might be no bad thing to keep reminding them of it.

Warwick Davis’ Big Little Theatre Company

February 7, 2015

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" New York City Premiere - Arrivals

Warwick Davis and Wife, Sam.

Thursday night the Beeb screened one of the few programmes that show the Corporation can still make documentaries worth showing. Modern Times followed Warwick Davis as he attempted to set up his Reduced Height Theatre Company. Davis and his wife, Sam, and their children are afflicted with dwarfism. Davis himself has had a long career in film and television, playing the mythological type of dwarf, and other creatures of legend, fantasy and Science Fiction. He’s appeared in the fantasy film, Willow, the Leprechaun series of horror flicks and, of course, Harry Potter. Star Wars aficionados will also remember him as the Ewok, Widget, who joins Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and Lando to overthrow the Empire in Return of the Jedi.

FWRO

Davis in his best-known role.

More recently he has appeared on TV with Ricky Gervaise, as a telekinetic dwarf in Psychoville, and as the Emperor of the Galaxy helping Matt Smith’s Doctor battle the Cybermen.

Davis isn’t content merely to continue playing in this restricted repertoire. He pointed out that many small people like him actually want to play the same roles played by people of normal height. And so he set up the Reduced Height Theatre Company to allow them to do just that. The intention was for the small actors to perform on a set that was scaled for people of their stature. This would create the illusion for the audience that they were actually watching normal-sized actors, so that within five minutes they would have forgotten they were watching dwarves.

See How They Run

The show followed Davis as he and his normal-sized director and producers auditioned the aspiring actors, and supervised the construction of the set. The play they chose to perform was the farce, See How They Run, written in 1942, whose cast includes seven vicars and an escaped German POW. It’s a classic British farce, of the type viewers used to be informed was playing at a theatre somewhere at the end of TV programmes in the 1970s. As the credits rolled, a voice would announce that the actors in the programme were now appearing in show X at the Odeon, Bognor, or somewhere. The cast Davis settled on were extremely talented, and from what was shown it was astonishing that they had never performed professionally before. A few, including one young lady, were drama or performing arts students. The girl was shown in her class performing the type of dance routine that way back in the 1970s was hailed as ‘movement’.

Health Problems

The show also interviewed the cast members themselves. One of the girls, and a bald guy of somewhat hippy-ish attire, spoke of their pain at being dwarves, how they hated being their height, until they finally came to terms with it, and realised those were the bodies they had. The bald bloke was a swimmer, and made the point that in the pool he was as good as anybody. Which I think was proved most definitely by the speed at which some of the disabled swimmers, including Britain’s female dwarf athlete, moved through the pool during the Paralympics.

Along with the lack of height, the disorder can bring other, far more serious problems. The condition may include problems with the spine, the hips and the legs. One of the girls recalled being told that she would eventually end up in a wheelchair by a certain age. This made her determined to live her life as she had it now. The bald fellow also described his problems with the condition.

These problems had, sadly, struck at Davis’ wife, Sam. She had suffered period where she lost sensation in her legs. The bones in her spine had fused to press on her spinal cord. If this was left untreated, she would eventually lose the use of her legs. The problem had become increasingly acute, until she needed to be taken into hospital for an operation, which would correct this and give her back some kind of normal function. If it failed, she would be confined to a wheelchair.

Panto and Financing

Davis had put his own money into setting the project up, and stated that if it failed, his house was on the line. There was added pressure from his having to perform in Panto at the same time as his wife was to have the operation. And in amongst all this, he was also unhappy with the set. The director had purchased a normal-sized set, which was nevertheless sufficiently small for it to be suitable for people of the performers’ size. Nonetheless, it was still too large, and Davis reluctantly decided on taking it to a set construction company. After examining it, they decided that it would have to be rebuilt smaller.

Success

Despite all these problems, the show was a success. Davis took it to 90 different theatres up and down Britain, including Plymouth. The theatre there had a particularly large stage, and it was feared that if they scaled down the set it would leave plenty of unused space on the stage, which would destroy the illusion of normality. The actors were shown laughing at their lines and performances as they rehearsed, with the director pushing them to get the best performance from them in the few weeks before they trod the boards for real. Sam’s operation, although it did not result in her being able to get on her feet as quickly as expected, nevertheless appeared to be a success. Her surgeon assured her that it sounded like she was well on the way to recovery.

I think the Reduced Height Theatre Company is a splendid idea. There have been other, similar specialist theatre companies for others with different types of disability. Nabil Shaban, who played the villainous Sil in the Colin Baker Dr Who stories ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp’, suffered from brittle bone syndrome. He was a member of a disabled theatre troupe, which staged Ben Jonson’s Volpone. One of the greatest dwarf actors was David Rappoport, who starred as the leader of the time travelling dwarf gang in Terry Gilliam’s 1980s fantasy, Time Bandits. Rappoport went on to do other film and TV work. He appeared as an uptight British businessman, who gradually began to unwind through discovering rock ‘n’ roll in America in a TV series on Channel 4 in the 1990s. He brought style and swagger to his roles, but sadly committed suicide just before he was due to appear as the villain in the Star Trek TNG episode ‘The Most Toys’. Watching this, I was left wondering whether he’d still be with us, if something like the Reduced Height Theatre company had existed when he was performing.

In all of this, it inevitably raises the issue of ‘separatism’ versus ‘integration’, and it could be said that the Company acts as a kind of ghetto for people with dwarfism. They may perform the same roles as people of normal height, but they are still separate. I think it’s still great that the theatre is providing people with their disability to perform normal roles, roles which they would otherwise not get. My guess is that it will in time challenge stereotypes, and show producers that actors of this height can be realistically cast in roles other than ‘stage dwarf’.

Support Your Local Disabled Talent, Support the NHS

As so many of the actors with this condition have related health problems, the NHS also has a role in supporting this talent. At one point Davis said that he was amazed when people ask him what it’s like to be in hospital, as they’ve never been. He and his family were in there three times a week. The Tories and UKIP would love to privatise the NHS and replace it with an insurance-based service. One fifth – 20 per cent – of Americans can no longer afford medical care, and Republicans like the Koch brothers would like to end medicare/ Medicaid, the state safety net for those unable to pay. The Tories over here despise the disabled anyway, as do the Kippers. If they get in, the support currently given, if meagrely and extremely grudgingly, to the poor, sick and disabled will vanish. And that will inevitably damage Britain’s ability to nurture talented disabled artists and performers.

If we want Britain to continue produce world class performers, and initiatives that challenge and stretch audiences’ limits and expectations, this cannot go unchallenged. The artists, actors and athletes of the future deserve the support of the welfare state and NHS, along with us normal types.

As for the Reduced Theatre Company, I wish them every success and look forward to their future performances. I hope this time they come somewhere near me, and perform in Bristol or Cheltenham.