Three new political plays invoke the idea of the people, two with naive gusto and one more scepticallyby Sameer Rahim / March 31, 2017 / Leave a comment
Right from its origins in Ancient Greece theatre has been the site of political argument. People with opposing perspectives clash over the best course of action. Can we bury that traitor inside the city walls? Should I kill my murderous uncle? Sitting in judgement is the audience—the embodiment of “the people.” Ah, the people. That mythical constituency in whose name so much is claimed. Yet the theatre—and politics—would be nothing without them.
Three political plays currently on in London all invoke the idea of “the people”—two with naive gusto, one with measured scepticism. Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere is written by the former Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason, drawing on his book of the same name. The play follows “Paul Mason,” (played by Paul Mason) as he interviews protestors at various hotspots—Athens during the eurozone crisis, Tahrir Square as Mubarak fell, New York during the Occupy movement. Interspersed are reflections by Paul Mason.
(Did I mention Paul Mason was involved?)
It opened with our heroic leader striding round the stage like a cross between Che Guevara and Jeremy Clarkson. He was lecturing hippies in London about the Paris commune. The gist, I think, was that sexy revolutionaries were crushed by the evil state. That set the tone: it was good guys versus bad guys all the way through to the inevitable appearance of Donald Trump.
All these battles were presented as repetitions of previous ones. Events were drained of specificity. So unemployed American graduates in Brooklyn were deemed to be fighting the same battle as Egyptians risking their lives in Cairo. Any actual connections there might be between the financial crisis and the Arab Spring—rising bread prices, for example—were left untouched. All that’s left is glamorous rebellion.
The audience here played “the people.” We were asked to chant in Arabic, “The People Want the Fall of the Regime.” The people, naturally, are always in the right. So there was no encouragement to self-reflection. The most successful radical anti-western group in the world—Islamic State—was barely mentioned; but they are “the people” too. As 1917 taught us, “the people”—or rather those acting in their name—can sometimes be completely wrong.
The only saving grace was actor and activist Khalid Abdalla,…