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Posts Tagged ‘Thatcher’


Is there one? Oh yes.

I am seizing on the fact that he is there, in our faces and our media, and will be there for the next four years. On the campaign trail, it was evident to me that personal popularity ranks very high with him, and he gets irritated very easily if people get under his oh-so-thin skin.

As a writer of riper years, I’ve been saddened for a long time by the lack of engagement of the arts worlds in the UK and Ireland with urgent, world-wide issues – climate change, the emergence and prevalence of harmful, hurtful, violent opinions, the damage done to our cultural lives, our humanity, by a succession of neoliberal governments, and, further back, the damage done to the NHS by its creeping privatisation under Labour, the destruction wrought on the fabric of British society by Margaret Thatcher, and the austerity choices made by increasingly right-wing governments in London and Dublin.

There have been some brave attempts which stand out because of their rarity – Ken Loach, whose writer Paul Laverty distilled his research for ‘I, Daniel Blake,’ into a screenplay so plausible it has the credible punch of a documentary, but whose uncompromising truths remain compartmentalised by the mainstream media as the ravings of a ‘lefty luvvie’. And at the National Theatre in London, this year I saw a verbatim theatre piece called ‘Another World’ about the radicalisation of young men in Britain.

In Ireland, ‘Hinterland’ by Sebastian Barry looked at party political corruption and the exigencies of political reality.

But who has written a play about Irish Water? About the mounting numbers who emigrate, as they did in the eighties? Who has written a play to tell our children honestly what the world is becoming?

The dancer and choreographer Catherine Young is the only creator I know of in Ireland who has recently given us a response to the political chaos our rulers helped to create. Her compelling dance piece, ‘Welcoming the Stranger’, was inspired by the stories of migrants and refugees from Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Africa – all whom have made Kerry their home. At The Everyman in Cork, Artistic Director Julie Kelleher has sought out women’s voices, from Carmel Winters ‘Witness’ to ‘Sisters of the Rising’.

Ireland’s great national theatres have been focused this year on the past glories of 1916, rather than looking at the present, or ahead to the chaos we are creating for future generations.

Writers! Musicians! Artists! Choreographers! We have a once in a lifetime chance to let our talents rip in the service of humanity. With wit, imagination, humour, words, gestures and music we can provide a robust alternative to the carping voices of bigotry, hatred, narrow-mindedness and paranoia. If the spectacle of Trump cannot inspire us to great satire, nothing will. If, out of the dystopia his world view will create we can weave a counter-narrative for our children and grandchildren, if we can restore dignity to our citizens who are disabled, old or poor, if we can keep our spirits buoyant and our eyes fixed on a goal which is not about wealth or power, but about a living planet fit for humans and all other species to enjoy, then our art will truly be serving the people.

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I remember a time when: 

arts subjects in schools were encouraged and children under 11 were helped, not to pass tests, but to blossom as individuals and to love learning. In my secondary school I had the chance to learn French, German, Latin, Greek & Spanish, art & pottery.

Teachers were happy to give up their after school time to arrange sports matches, direct plays, and help us with drama competitions, including, at my school, teaching us how to be a Greek chorus.

The Belgrade Theatre led the way with a permanent Theatre in Education company that went into schools and performed plays of relevance to their young audiences. Theatre in Education enabled children to enjoy live theatre for the first time; quality writing and performance of this theatre spoke directly to their hearts and growing minds,respecting their experience.

The network of Theatre in Education companies has vanished, along with the philosophy that arts funding should extend to children and people who cannot afford theatre tickets. Arts are now a business.

Like Thatcher, I came from a working class background – both my parents left school at 16. We had no money to spare for holidays abroad – we went and stayed with my grandparents. My education relied on free and excellent public libraries and a grant system that enabled me to go to university [the first person in my family to do so]. All through my childhood and young adulthood I could absolutely rely on free health care. 

As a result of this upbringing, I did not have a burning wish to make money. I wanted to work with people who had very little opportunity to make their voices heard. I worked in the poorest districts of Newcastle on Tyne, with travellers in Scotland and the west midlands. I saw there was still poverty and hopelessness where people felt left out of the affluent society that Thatcher encouraged. Her dreams were of goals that could simply be achieved by having more money. She was always a woman who knew the price of everything, and the value of nothing. And those values entered into the minds of a whole generation of children who now hold the reins of power and cannot understand that some people would rather spend their time helping other people.

That was society as I knew it. I still know people who cherish this idea, but they are getting older and the vision that we once shared is no longer accepted as anything but batty individualism. 

I’ve been an actor, director, puppeteer, playwright and novelist all my working life. Choosing the arts as a profession guarantees living on a shoestring. I’ve been lucky. I have never drawn the dole, or felt constricted by a lack of money. My life has been so rich in other things that matter more to me. 

Today as her funeral procession moves through London my heart will be with the silent protesters who will turn their backs on her coffin. I mourn what we have lost. I mourn the lack of strong and principled politicians who could stand up to her juggernaut of confident delusion, and show us, society, their voters, that there are other ways of thinking.

 

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