Play For Today

My parents weren’t theatre goers. They had neither time nor money, though my father attended music concerts in his youth, and as a pupil midwife my mother enjoyed London’s West End theatres courtesy of free tickets left at the nurses’ home. I got the bug for watching plays via the BBC. There used to a programme called Play For Today. Every week, on Thursday night, I think, there was a new play written for television by writers that included Dennis Potter among others. It was magic. My sister loved the Regents Park open air theatre and introduced me to that, and I became a supporter of my local theatre in Guildford, where five minutes before curtain up for 50p I could get a seat in the house.

Unsurprisingly, in London theatre has been a constant since I moved here.

My friend Tony and I went to see Twelfth Night last night at the Globe. Last year we were blown away by Emma Rice’s Bollywood Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as this is to be her final season at the Globe, we wanted to see Twelfth Night as she has directed it too. I bought tickets as soon as they became available and have been really looking forward to this production.

Most of the audience were enraptured. We less so. After Malovolio had blown his whistle for the sixth time, I wanted to leap on the stage and take it away from her (a female actor is playing the part of the male steward, whereas up river at the National, a female actor is playing Malvolia, the steward’s gender having been changed).

It was a less than subtle production. Emma Rice seemed to have decided to throw everything at this one, and for me it was a case of less would have been more. There were bits I loved; the shipwreck, Antonio rowing through the groundlings in his boat Bewitched, some of the music. There was a lot of music. At one point in Act I, we wondered if the play had been turned into a musical. Twelfth Night is a light, frothy sort of play, to my mind it didn’t need, or deserve, to be whipped up further and half a ton of cherries put on the top.

It’s part of the Globe’s 2017 Summer of Love season. Ironic in more ways than one, but with the upcoming general election on my mind, it’s the disunity on painful display across my country, the distinct lack of love among our separate parts that seems most obvious this summer. The talk is all of a Tory landslide, Labour wiped out, Theresa May measuring up for new curtains at Number 10 and settling in for a long stay. Some of her admirers speak of her as the new Margaret Thatcher, a divisive politician to the power of n, and although Mrs May says she is no Margaret Thatcher, her constant harping on about unity while spelling out policies that obviously divide, punish the metropolitan communities who so stubbornly don’t vote Tory, and reward the Home Counties and shires who do, reminds me of Thatcher’s little speech when she quoted St Francis.

But for those of us who remember the days of Thatcher as leader, and I do with a shudder, we know that unity was the last thing she achieved. My country was riven. There were riots across the country. Greed and ostentatious wealth were praised, poverty was obviously the fault of not believing in Mrs T strongly enough, of being feckless enough to think the weak and the vulnerable were deserving of respect and dignity, of working in the public sector.

So no, I shall not be voting for the Tory candidate in this constituency. I assume there is one, though s/he has not so far leafleted this address. In contrast, the Lib Dems seem to think I may be their new penpal, or even a member of their party. Labour has been more sparing with the leaflets, and that has made them more effective, as I have actually read them. The Greens, who I usually vote for have not made contact either. Octavia forced me to watch some of the Leaders’ Debate on the television last week. Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn attended. May said she preferred to go out and meet people, or maybe The People; this despite the fact that the Tory campaign has been even more than usually managed to mean the last thing she’ll meet is the people. She attends meetings where only the party faithful are allowed in; even after the Tory manifesto was launched she wouldn’t speak to the press. It’s bizarre, though as she’d probably have said strongandstable a thousand times and not answered any questions, perhaps I should consider us spared. Corbyn said he wouldn’t attend when May said she wasn’t going, as though they are joined by some strange link at the hip. He has definitely been out and about meeting (The) People, and kissing quite a few of them too. I’m not sure what that’s about. Pucker Up and Vote Labour! doesn’t sound like a winning campaign slogan to me. I could be wrong. Tim Farron looks bright eyed and bushy tailed, and the Lib Dems have decided that as well as opposing Brexit they want to legalise cannabis. I liked Frankie Boyle’s comment on Have I Got News for You, when he compared Farron to a trendy vicar announcing a meeting at the Youth Club about how to act normally when talking to gay people. Though I didn’t like it as much as I did Giles Brandeth’s comment that if Trump does actually bring the world to an end, won’t it be nice to know it’s happened in our lifetimes.
The leader I thought did best on the Leaders’ Debate was Caroline Lucas (Green), though the chair whose name I don’t know, seemed determined to stop her finishing any sentence. Maybe the chair has shares in an oil company. Paul Nuttall (UKIP) was so awful it was beyond embarrassing; Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Leanne Cox (Plaid Cymru) were good too, though both their parties are geographically denied to me as prospective parliamentary reps. So with all these good, eloquent women, all of whom strike me as capable, potentially great leaders, how come it’s the Maybot who is likely to be Head Honcho after 8th June?

It doesn’t make sense.

Nor did it make sense when the social worker in Three Girls, the admirable and at times excruciatingly difficult to watch BBC dramatised retelling of the girls in Rochdale who were groomed and sexually abused by a group of men, saying that if abuse happened out side the family Social Services didn’t usually get involved. If you missed it, steel yourself and watch it on BBC i-player. As a reminder of why we need to watch out for the vulnerable and marginalised, of why we need to challenge accepted mores and taboos, it is timely. It is also extremely well acted. The three girls are superb. Maxine Peake, who plays the sexual health worker who tries to get the police and social services to act, is always convincing, but I don’t think I have seen her give a better performance. What those girls, what their families went through is unimaginable. That they came out the other side is remarkable.

It wasn’t the production I was looking forward to seeing this week, but it’s the one that will stay with me, and it reminded me again what value we get from paying the TV licence that funds the BBC, and that sometimes the best productions are the ones you can watch from your sofa.

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4 thoughts on “Play For Today

  1. Well Dang. We got tickets for Twelfth Night at the Globe mostly because it was what was available while we will be in London (we would like to see a performance at the Globe) and also partly having seen Filtre Theatre’s production over here recently — I figure there is no bad version of Twelfth Night, just some not made great as others.

    As the the meat of your post I am as interested and concerned as a global citizen can be and hope we can spend some time in discussion when we are on your shores. I think the party system, both yours and ours, are having a 21stC renovation – and process that is bound to hurt all sorts during the process.

    Goodness that sounds serious. Which as I hope you know is not our best suit.

    • It is good, but not as good as the production of the same play at the National, and not as good as last year’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I am sure you’ll enjoy it, and I’ll be interested to hear your reactions. We are going to see Much Ado there at the end of July. Apparently it is being set in Mexico…

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