Just finished following the Labour Party Conference? Well, as far as I can see, politics is no longer the serious matter that it once was, but it has somehow morphed into a rather sinister form of light entertainment. My theory is that, in a world of virtual reality computer games and high definition special effects, most people have actually lost the plot.
There was a time when the theatre and cinema were not only a window on the world, but a true reflection of ourselves, and how we could discover that we were not alone in the world. It was a time when the performing arts represented a social comment, a way of expressing how we felt about our lives, and the conditions in which we were destined to live.
I know some of my readers do not like me to use the expression working class, but in the dark days of the 60s and 70s – when Britain was an industrialized country with serious unemployment lurking on the horizon – coal miners and steelworkers did not need to be reminded that their rented houses, and hard earned wages, were becoming a little less reliable. By their own definition, they were working class, and proud of it – much as they still are today – but in those days, being a manual or unskilled worker, was fast becoming a thing of the past.
But, it was also a time when the theatre and cinema – previously inhabited by very posh rather unconvincing actors – was changing. Instead of foppish thespian’s, shuffling across a stage with their trousers around their ankles, saying – ‘I say, Lady Hilda, your husbands back home rather early today, what?’ – the public was suddenly introduced to a new and vital dose, of social reality.
Called – inappropriately in my view – kitchen sink drama, by the puffed up Kenneth Tynons and critics of the day, a whole new set of brilliant working class socialist authors and playwrights emerged from the wings of the dull post war theatres, or into the busy bookstores of the Charring Cross Road. Presenting the British public with – not only good entertainment which they could relate to and perfectly understand – it also served to open the eyes of the more privileged and often bigoted Tories of the day.
As social mobility improved in the 60s, together with all the other new freedoms and excesses, not only was love was in the air; alongside the often inviting and noxious whiff of dope, but so were many unwanted pregnancies. And this was a constant theme, of post war TV and cinema, together with little hope for the future. But as the new writers and musicians attempted to break up the old class differences and to homogenize society – with what were then regarded as new, revealing films, plays and books – many have now become embedded in our culture and into the category of noir.
Dennis Potter with Pennies from Heaven, John Osbourne with Look Back in Anger, Alan Sillitoe with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Stan Barstow with A kind of Loving, John Braine with Man At the Top, and finally Nell Dunn with Up the Junction. All these writers were, or still are, self confessed socialists and people who have tried to show us all, not only how the other half lived, but revealing some of the dreadful injustices that existed, at the time of writing, and since. My play Judicial Review, is set at Reading University, and being performed by an acting group from the Socialist Workers Party. Partly the theatre of the absurd and partly about the human condition, it made me think! How about you?
It is the year 2000 and Sir Jerald Noakes, a leading City of London business tycoon, has fallen foul of both his own and the prevailing institutional greed. Very much a 21st century phenomenon, it seems that he has been chosen as a scapegoat by the British establishment, and soundly trounced for his misdemeanours. The fact that he is not from an old established UK family might have something to do with it, or that he is the upstart son of an émigré family emanating from somewhere in central Europe. The play begins in court, where it appears Sir Jerald, having been found extremely guilty on all counts, is now awaiting his sentence. The play makes a mockery of money and the way it alters people’s attitudes towards one another; in this case, the piffling sum of £50 million. As the play progresses, the audience is introduced to the fictional actors who all have their own stories to tell, and who are all baffled by the amount of money and greed involved. It also juxtaposes a previous court case – experienced by a member of the fictional cast – which happened during the dark days prior to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The play within the play – written by a fictional Irish member of the Socialist Workers Party – is being performed at Reading University. It is one of the few places in the UK that still accepts and enjoys left-wing theatre and, as the play progresses, The Theatre of the Absurd. The director of the play has misgivings about the way it is progressing and both he and the writer – who seems to be permanently full of angst – are at loggerheads over the message the play is sending out to the audience. The director is worried about its political correctness, but the writer is not concerned at all with controversy, because of the emotional baggage he is carrying around, his working class roots, and his life experience. By halfway, it is discovered that Sir Jerald is terminally ill, and – out of compassion – he is released from prison by the Home Secretary. On release, and due to his rapid decline, everywhere he looks he is surrounded by treachery and humbug. No longer a tough nut, with his dictatorship now seemingly over, and in despair, he comes to realise that – during a lifetime in big business – he has only been loved for his money. But however much Sir Jerald’s tormentors believe they have him at their mercy, he still preserves a powerful and humiliating weapon, a final card, which he believes will allow him to die in peace.