Archive for Politics

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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DUST Scargill’s dreams and reality. Britain 1984-2011

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Dust poster carrying CounterCulture UK ***** star verdict.

DUST  Scargill’s dreams and reality. Britain1984-2011

Quidem Productions

The New Town Theatre, Freemasons’ Hall, 96 George Street Venue 7

NOTHING divided British society in the mid-1980s more than the bitter Coal mineworkers’ strike of 1984.  As in 1926, a confrontation between a charismatic leader of the miners’ union and the elected government, brought poverty and misery to dozens of mining communities all overBritain.  Margaret Thatcher, who became Prime Minister in 1979, was determined to break the power of the miners’ union which had forced a previous Conservative government out of office in 1974.  Ironically, the Miners’ union played a part in bringing Thatcher to power when she succeeded Ted Heath as Tory leader after his electoral defeat in 1974.  She determined to break the power of the miners and their famous ‘flying pickets’.

Scargill echoes another Arthur, AJ Cook who led the miners to defeat in the 1926 general strike with the famous slogan, ‘Not a minute on the day, not a penny off the pay’. Cook, a former Baptist preacher, died at the age of 47 in 1931.

This is the background to Ade Morris’s play. Arthur (Michael Strobel) and his publisher Barbara (Lucinda Curtis) are discussing his forthcoming biography of his hero AJ Cook when news breaks that his old nemesis, Margaret Thatcher, has died.  Arthur is expecting a visit from Lawrence, one of his old militant flying pickets.

InDoncaster, Chris (John Sackville), a retrained former miner tells his wife Maggie (Alice Bernard) that he is facing redundancy from his health care job.

At times witty and at other times deeply moving, the play probes the depths of each character’s soul.  Strobil’s Scargill is convinced that he was absolutely right and that history has vindicated him. Other characters illustrate the human cost of the miners’ struggle.

Simple staging means that a lot more rests on the actors to project the right image and not distract the audience. This experienced cast carry this task off easily. John Sackville stood out.  With a change of coat, stance and accent he switched from a preaching, revivalist-style Welsh miners’ leader to a defeated, downcast ex-miner fromDoncasterand back again.

If you’re looking for an agitprop hagiography of Arthur Scargill as champion of the working classes, you’ll be disappointed.  This is Arthur Scargill and the miners strike, warts and all.

Reviewed by David Kerr

***** Five Stars

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Edinburgh Fringe 2010: HITLER ALONE

Hitler Alone ****

Venue 257

Interlingua, 29 Hanover Street

21-26 August

Reviewed by David Kerr

This year seems to be the season for one-man-shows about monstrous dictators. Choose between Mussolini at the Hill Street Thratre and his protégé and successor Adolf Hitler at Venue 28.

The scene is set in the doomed fuehrer’s bunker a few hours before his death as the Red Army battles for control of Berlin. The simple stage in a tiny room draws out that bunker-like sense of claustrophobia. In front of a huge swastika banner, sits a single chair and a small table on which sits a framed picture of Hitler’s mother.

Paul Weston’s Hitler rants and raves, then calms down for a bit as he recalls some of his triumphs and disasters. At times, Weston’s Hitler comes across as vunerable and human; the rest of the time as the demonic monster of legend.

Webster’s intense performance is chillingly mesmerising and even at times sympathetic as the Great Dictator walks out the door to meet his final destiny.

**** four stars

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Politics: How the Left see Malcolm X


Malcolm X speeches

Click on image to buy book

The Leftists’ reaction to the film Malcolm X, and indeed to the man’s life, could best be described as mixed. Workers’ Power seemed keen at first. They liked his violent rhetoric and his anger, (or ‘rage’ as the ‘in’ term has it). In their April edition a note of caution was sounded in a letter from David Cohen.

Whilst David praises X’s rejection of the pacifist civil rights movement and his “joint struggle” with “white workers”(?) he points out that “he remained a Muslim and a nationalist.” Worse still, “much of Malcolm’s writings on black history only encourage the ideas of separatism, nation-building and creating a layer of black businessmen.” David Cohen felt overall that “Malcolm X’s political legacy was so ambiguous that everyone from Muslims through to Socialists are trying to claim him as their own.”

If we turn to Class War issue 58, we discover that Malcolm was really an anarchist; at least that is the impression that the front cover and the centre-page article convey. Headed  The Politics Behind the Hype, their article sings Malcolm’s praises. At one point they mention that he “witnessed” meetings between the Nation of Islam and White separatists. Obviously Malcolm (unusually for him) had nothing to say at such meetings and did not participate. No guilt can attach to good old revolutionary Malcolm…. that would spoil the myth!

CW do have a few criticisms. Malcolm was too optimistic about the United Nations solving Black American problems. And apparently he “could be accused of being too optimistic about the positive aspects of these new Third World regimes both in terms of the reactionary nature of some of them, and in the illusion that they were free from Western control.”

 CW is written in a simple propagandistic style. At one point Malcolm’s slogan of  Pride, Identity and Unity for black people is simply restated in class terms. Either this is an attempt at manipulative propaganda, or the boys and girls at Class War are rather missing the point!

 Class War do at least see some contradiction in the hype around the film; pointing out that “all the T-shirts, caps and hype have tried to incorporate a revolutionary figure into a consumer market; it’s a case of “move over Che Guevara, Malcolm X sells more than you!”

Malcolm X DVD

Click on image to buy DVD

 The two most informative articles from the leftist press were in the February 1993 issue of Workers’ News. These were a review of Spike Lee’s film, and one of the book *Malcolm: the Life of a Man who Changed Black America. The film review noted that Malcolm had spoken under the auspices of the Militant Labour Forum on three occasions during the last year of his life, the first in April 1964. He had also contributed to the newspaper The IW Militant.

 Workers’ News felt that Malcolm was seeking an audience by using the American Socialist Workers’ Party paper and organisation as a front-group. This presumably is the “joint struggle with white workers” referred to by David Cohen!
WN criticises a number of Malcolm’s views, and reminds us that even towards the end of his life Malcolm would persist in pointing out how many of the grasping small businessmen or phoney white liberals were actually Jewish.

Malcolm X Autobiography

Click on image to buy book

 Socialist Organiser number 523 contains two articles on Malcolm X. One was a review of the film and the other a review of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, (Penguin, £5.99). The film review was headed Malcolm without Anti-Capitalism.  This article asserted that “no hint is given of his growing revolutionary anti-capitalism nor of his speaking on socialist platforms”. They further criticised the film for failing to “confront” nationalist ideas:–

 One of the weaknesses of the film is that it does not really attempt to confront the ideas of the Nation [of Islam]. They, and Malcolm at the time, believed that “whites are a degenerate offspring”! They also believed in black separatism, and talked to the American Nazi Party and KKK who, in their own way, did too. Yet these ideas are sketched, not analysed.

 The leftist reaction to Malcolm seems to be confused not only by their great desire for him to be a mythical yet street-credible figure, but because Malcolm was himself confused….

For most of his life he was a separatist. Then he began to enunciate different views. How his views would have developed we will never know, as he was struck down by assassins. One thing is certain, however: Malcolm X was essentially honest, and behind the firebrand image was a curiously aproachable man.


* Malcolm, The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America
   by Bruce Perry. Station Hill Press.


Some of the papers reviewed can be obtained from the addresses below:

Class War
PO Box 772
Bristol  B599 IEG
Workers’ News
1117 Meredith Street
London  ECIR OAE
Socialist Organiser
PO Box 823
London  SE 14 4NA













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