Archive for Politics



Assembly George Square Theatre (Venue 8)
12:00noon; Aug 9-10, 12-17, 19-24
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes

George Orwell’s tale of a revolution betrayed is brought to the stage by the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Georgia’s most famous son was the model for the pig leader, Napoleon; former Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

In this allegory, the animals of Manor Farm overthrow the rule of the tyrannical Farmer Jones and set up a new regime where all animals are equal under the new ideology of Animalism. However, to defend the revolution, the newly christened Animal Farm gradually cedes, without realising the consequences until it’s too late, all power to Napoleon and his coterie of pigs.

Props and costumes are minimal in this production but that is not a problem. This performance  is in the Georgian language with simultaneous English language surtitles displayed overhead. In practice this works well. Arguably, it allows for greater concentration. Through dance, movement, gestures and a cracking soundtrack we can soon work out who are the sheep, the pigs, the hens and the dogs in this effective piece of physical theatre.

Stalinism is dead and gone everywhere but in North Korea but the temptation to trust a ruler who is ‘always right’ is still with us today. Animal Farm is great reminder of the truth of the words of the Psalmist who said, ‘Put not your trust in princes’.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr


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The First Stone

First Stone cover

Click on image to buy this book!

It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to envisage the dystopian American society of Elliott Hunter’s debut novel. The First Stone. It’s all too plausible. Set in the not-too-distant future, (or perhaps an alternative present), this America has become an intolerant place dominated by The Council of Elders, a fundamentalist group that has become the real rulers of the new America in the years after Houston had been vaporised by a terrorist nuclear device.

America had lashed out in retaliation of course. Despite protestations of innocence the Iranians had been blamed and Tehran had been razed. Egged on by zealots from hundreds of fundamentalist preachers who provided the willing cannon fodder for a new Great Patriotic Crusade against terror, American soldiers occupied large parts of the Middle East. Thousands of soldiers had died there and many more had come home, seriously wounded, traumatised or damaged by chemicals and radiation. One such former soldier was Felix Strange, a private eye who suffers from a debilitating illness picked up in Iran that has neither a name nor a cure.

Strange doesn’t normally deal with homicide cases, but when the body of America’s most loved preacher, Brother Isaiah, is found strangled to death in his New York hotel room, he is called in to investigate. He’d rather not get involved in this case, but Ezekiel White who leads the morality police, the ‘Committee for Child Protection’ has ways and means of forcing him to comply.

White’s CCP goons, known as the Holy Rollers, are outflanked by Brother Isaiah’s Crusade of Love; an independent body of religious zealots who send their spies into different towns and cities in advance of a visit by the influential preacher. Pretty-boy ‘ex-gay’ activists entrap closet gays. Attractive young ladies do the same for amorous men in positions of authority. The unfortunate victims then find themselves denounced for their perversity by Brother Isaiah at one of his huge evangelistic rallies. Brother Isaiah may have had the US President and the Congress in his pocket, and Jesus on his side, but he had surely annoyed somebody enough to kill him. Strange has a week to find out who killed Brother Isaiah and why, if he lives that long…

This modern noir reflects the grim humour and terse prose of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler for the twenty-first century. All the ingredients are there; a mystery death, a race against time to meet a deadline, people out to stop our protagonist and one of the finest examples of a femme fatale to appear in crime fiction for decades. This is an outstanding book, both in terms of characterisation and sharp dialogue and most notably in its author’s scarily plausible portrayal of a society dominated by an intolerant fundamentalist version of Christianity.

Reviewed by David Kerr

The First Stone (the first in the Strange Trilogy). Elliott Hall


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Review: Notes from the Borderland – Issue 10

NOTES-FROM-THE-BORDERLAND_10NOTES From The Borderland, (NFB), is a long-established journal published and edited by the researcher Larry O’Hara and styles itself ‘The Parapolitical magazine’. On its website, it gives a brief definition of the term “parapolitical”, including others’ variations on it, but for the purposes of this review of issue number ten, which was published during 2012, we will confine ourselves to theirs: “For us, parapolitics refers to the social reality of conflicting forces and their-oft hidden agendas. It is by analysing these conflicts and tracking their trajectory/outcomes that parapolitical research advances”. Thus we have the ethos underpinning the magazine.

The lead article by Larry O’Hara is Gareth Williams: Murdered Twice. Most of us no doubt remember the strange, and to this day, unexplained death of Gareth Williams in August 2010. He was found inside a locked holdall after what may have been some kind of sex-game gone wrong, or was it murder? That the deceased worked for GCHQ and had been living in London on secondment to MI6 at the time of his death was not surprisingly seized upon by not only the tabloid press but other more respectable papers and subject to much speculation, much of which was lurid insinuations about his private life.

O’Hara does a fine job in going beyond the sensationalism surrounding Williams’s death and looks at various factors including what exactly did Gareth Williams do? Was his death linked to his work? If it was, has there been a deliberate campaign of dis-information to obscure any such connection? What is actually known about Williams’s private life and activities outside of work as opposed to what the media might care to infer/speculate? The roles of the media, the police and the security services in this case are meticulously examined in this article and it includes a very helpful timeline of events. Critically examined is one of the more far-out theories linking Williams’s death to the most likely accidental one of an Oxford lecturer that occurred the same month. It serves as an object lesson of how speculation and debate on unexplained events can descend into the realms of fantastic conspiracy theory.

Pandora’s Pox: How Far Right Labour Hijacked The Hope Not Hate Campaign by Larry O’Hara and Heidi Svenson charts the internecine squabbles between self-styled “anti-fascist” journal Searchlight and its former ally, the Hope Not Hate campaign group. O’Hara has been a keen observer of the Searchlight scene for over twenty years now so he is uniquely qualified to comment on this tale which is almost reminiscent of what happened with Dr Frankenstein and his monster! On the one side, we have what might be termed the traditional Searchlight group headed up by the husband and wife team of Gerry and Sonia Gable, and on the other, the Hope Not Hate team which while it contains the former Searchlight editor and long-time employee Nick Lowles, is largely comprised of relative newcomers to the Searchlight scene.

The backgrounds of these newcomers are quite interesting and could easily fit into the pages of a thriller. They include a merchant banker, a person named in Wikileaks as a source to be protected by the US Embassy and a former ‘far-right’ activist who moved to Australia for a bit after changing sides and then returned to the UK to work for the Searchlight group. Now it is open to the judgement of the individual reader whether or not O’Hara and Svenson make a convincing case for the cause of the split being an attempt by failed New Labour, (or should that be Neo-New Labour!), types to re-launch their careers by adding a bit of street cred to their CV’s through their involvement with Hope Not Hate, not a totally unrealistic proposition given the group’s cosy relationship with various elements of the establishment. Other factors to take into account include the dispute over whether or not the septuagenarian Gable actually set a date for his retirement, (both sides dispute what was said on this and NFB provides excerpts from e-mails and letters on the issue), and whether the less noble motivation of competition over the various sizeable grants available from both local and central government for work in local communities to tackle “extremism” played a part in causing the rift. Strange dealings such as the removal of the Searchlight archives, some twenty filing cabinets’ worth, are also covered.

On a more general note, O’Hara and Svenson look at the work undertaken by Hope Not Hate and highlight the modern phenomenon of “clicktivism”. This comprises various activities undertaken in the virtual world such as online petitions and their conclusion is that such work does not achieve much. Perhaps there is a lesson there for groups across the political spectrum? The article also looks at the various projects undertaken by Hope Not Hate in the real world and gives a serious and in-depth analysis of it. Again, it is up to the reader to decide whether or not this work has been effective, but it is hard not to conclude that a lot of money has been spent with not a lot in the way of results in return.

There are a number of shorter, but nonetheless very informative articles in this issue, of which we will mention but one. In Not Over Till It’s Over: The BNP and the 2012 Local Elections, Larry O’Hara gives his rather perceptive analysis of the BNP’s electoral performance in that poll. His debunking of the conventional left mantra that the BNP is finished, bust, etc. can, in light of more recent developments, be seen as somewhat prescient and places him above the less sophisticated analysis of those writers on the left who based their predictions of oblivion for the BNP more on wishful thinking than actual facts.

Finishing with an update section on stories carried in previous issues and at a total of eighty-seven pages, issue ten of Notes From The Borderland is a considerable read. Whilst the writers do not make any secret of their own political leanings, they manage in the main to avoid being tendentious and thus make the journal readable to a wider audience that does not necessarily share their views. This reviewer would recommend picking-up a copy by mail  or ordering online.

Reviewed by Andrew Hunter


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Argo (2012)

Argo posterDirector:
Ben Affleck
Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman|

Argo tells the story of the CIA operation to get six US diplomats out of revolutionary Iran.

Argo starts well by giving a ‘potted history’ of US involvement with Iran. It tells how the CIA helped organise a coup d’état against the elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who  nationalised the oil industry. The US put the hated Shah on a throne and helped train his secret police.

Set against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis the film conveys the real danger to the six in hiding. 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 day from November 4, 1979 and they were in real fear for their lives. The hostages have described mock executions and being paraded before angry crowds among other ill-treatment and psychological torture.

The story is a gripping one with many tense moments as the diplomats hide-out at the Canadian embassy and a rescue is attempted. It is a very watchable movie which doesn’t rely on firing guns or extreme violence to entertain. Argo keeps you in suspense throughout because of the peril of the diplomats as they risk being found and detained (or worse). Argo also is humourous in parts despite the very serious subject.

I am not, however, an uncritical fan of Argo. I was struck by three things. First, the Iranian people are generally portrayed as continually angry. The only sympathetic Iranian character is a maid who helps the US and leaves the country! All other Iranians are pretty one-dimensional and clearly the ‘bad guys’. This does not fulfil the promise of the opening statements which do give a glimpse of why the Iranian/American relationship is so bad. Second, the role of the Canadians, Swedish and Italians in getting the diplomats out is very underplayed and the CIA role exaggerated. Third, there is no mention of the failed rescue mission of April 24, 1980 where eight American airmen and one Iranian civilian sadly died. Perhaps this was left-out of the narrative so as not to spoil the feel-good nature of the successful rescue that the film centres on?

Reviewed by Pat Harrington


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This Land


This Land
The Story of Woody Guthrie


Zoo Southside

Woody Guthrie, the legendary American folk singer, was one of the principal musical figures of the early to middle part of the last century. His folk songs caught the mood of his generation with his tales of the great depression, the Oklahoma dustbowls, the war on Hitler’s Germany and the plight of workers and the downtrodden sectors of American society. He went on to influence Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger Phil Ochs and Bruce Springstein. Billy Bragg has recorded a British version of This Land, his best known song.

Punctuated with rumbustious renditions of some of Guthrie’s best known songs, This Land journeys through the highs and lows of his life; from his early days in the dustbowls of Oklahoma to his hospital bed where, by the time he met the young Bob Dylan, he was laid up with the final stages of Huntingdon’s Chorea.

Based on Guthrie’s own memoirs, the story is told by seven different Woodies, each one representing a different phase of his life. This inspirational play demonstrates the man’s dedication in the face of personal tragedy and debilitating life-limiting illness. It’s a perfect play from a perfect cast.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr

Some of the Woodies serenade the audience leaving the theatre; So long, it’s been good to know you…

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Venue 124, Zoo Monkey House


When stories become as familiar as George Orwell’s 1984 it is easy to overlook them because we think we know them.  Big Brother and Room 101 have become assimilated into popular culture through trivial television programmes.

Sometimes a retelling of a familiar story restores its original power to shock us out of our everyday complacency.  That’s true of Matthew Dunster’s simple, but nevertheless powerful adaptation of 1984, presented by EmpathEyes Theatre.

In the oppressive atmosphere of Oceania under the rule of the omnipresent Party Leader, wrong thoughts as well as wrong deeds are treated as crimes. Language has been redefined to design out the possibility of ‘thoughtcrime’. Big Brother sees everything.  Under his rule people have no trust and even fear their children, all of whom are members of the Spies.  People are dragged off in the night and are never spoken of again. One of Winston Smith’s colleagues, Symes, was arrested after one of his children denounced him for thoughtcrime.  He was overheard saying something against Big Brother in his sleep. Although they know that rebellion is futile, Winston and Julia have had enough and decide to resist Big Brother.

This hard-hitting stripped down to basics approach to the story brings home the true brutality of Big Brother’s regime; perpetual war, enforced cheerfulness, ‘doublethink’ and the image of Big Brother’s political power, a boot stamping on a human face forever.


EmpathEyes Theatre’s production of 1984

***** Five Stars


David Kerr





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The Crucible

American High School Theatre Festival

Pilrig Studio Venue 103, 1bPIlrig Street

ARTHUR MILLER’S play The Crucible, set in the time of the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692 was intended as an indictment of Senator Joe McCarthy’s blacklisting of persons accused of communist sympathies in 1950sAmerica.

This modern dress production is presented by a talented bunch of High School students from Pius XI High School inWisconsin. Despite their youth, they have total mastery of the script.

Young Alex Sobczak’s manipulative accuser Abigail Williams was so convincing that the audience were scanning the ceiling for the imps and devils she claimed to see. Roc Bauman was every inch the stout God-fearing farmer who knew that the accusations of witchcraft against his wife Elizabeth and scores of others were nonsense; Connor could not make himself heard against the clamour for blood. Instead he came under suspicion too, especially as he could not remember all of the Ten Commandments. According to Reverend Hale, his examiner, ‘Theology is a fortress. No crack in the fortress can be allowed.’

The Crucible still speaks powerfully today as there will always be people who act or look different from the norm for one reason or another.  Such folk can become objects of suspicion, fear and hatred and can be vulnerable to victimisation by unscrupulous manipulators with a score to settle or in pursuit of power and influence.

Reviewed by David Kerr

***** Five stars

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