27 July 2010

Welcome to Thebes

The National Theatre exists for plays like this. A new play with a large cast, with no starring parts a celeb could slip into, doesn't have a chance of being produced anywhere else. And that's before you even think about the subject matter: a "developing" country has been devastated by civil wars, and the dominant world power has come to offer support in rebuilding, but on its own terms. It's virtually impossible to see the dominant world power as anything other than America, and the developing country actually isn't Iraq - comparisons with Sierra Leone or Liberia are more accurate. But in the play the countries are called Thebes and Athens, and the names and myths are those of Greek mythology - to take just two examples, the new leader of Thebes is called Eurydice, and one of the loose-cannon soldiers is called Megaera. This brings with it various staples of Greek drama: hubris, hamartia, peripetia, etc. It's not coach-party stuff, and there were plenty of empty seats.

But this makes it unbelievably rich in levels of meaning, especially when you add the personal conflicts between various characters, and a thread of reflection on sexual roles. And there are racial issues at play too. The Thebans are mostly black, the Athenians mostly white (although their president "first citizen", Theseus, is black).

It's probably too much for one play to handle, but it's bloody close to succeeding. It has good jokes, which might surprise you. The one that got the biggest laugh was the most obvious, though: Oedipus (father and brother of two of characters) is described as a real motherfucker.

Actually, there was so much in it, I don't think I'm equipped to talk about it much more. I think I'll see it again.

Until then, let's just note that the cast was the blackest I've seen in an NT production. It wasn't colour-blind casting by any means, but subtle in the way it played on expectations. Presumably as a result the audience was noticeably blacker than usual, and I felt there was some sense among the black audience of delight at seeing so many black faces on the stage. Biggest applause went to Madeline Appiah, as Megaera, for a brilliantly fierce performance, but performances all round were excellent.

25 July 2010

Don't even ask me to try to spell prawn cocktail

The best of a set of four from Clive.

24 July 2010


Two questionable assumptions, and one certainty:

1. When people write out shopping lists, the aim is to be helpful to themselves.

2. Paper-rationing ended sometime in the 1950s.

3. I don't want these people to invite me to dinner.

21 July 2010

Where's mad Mel when you need her?

This story reported in the Guardian touches a few hot topics, doesn't it?
Sabbar Kashur, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after the court ruled that he was guilty of rape by deception. According to the complaint filed by the woman with the Jerusalem district court, the two met in downtown Jerusalem in September 2008 where Kashur, an Arab from East Jerusalem, introduced himself as a Jewish bachelor seeking a serious relationship. The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Kashur left.
When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.
Normally, of course, I'd say that a woman's character and history aren't relevant when you're looking at a rape allegation. But she doesn't seem very nice, does she? Let's ignore the possibility that she's simply a racist bigot, whose racism is endorsed by a racist judicary, and look at whether Kashur deceived her by promising to be looking for a serious relationship. It looks as if they had sex on their first meeting, and that's fine, but it's not necessarily the basis for a serious relationship. Imagine if she had accused him of rape by deception because "he said he loved me". Can't see that prosecution succeeding, can you? Or if he had been married, and lied about it. Or if he'd claimed to be richer than he is? These are things that happen all the time, and deplorable as they may be, don't amount to rape. Women know that men will tell lies in exchange for sex.

It seems as if Kashur's crime was to lie about his race. If the woman had known he was an Arab, she'd have found it impossible to have a serious relationship with him, or even to have casual sex with him. As I say, she doesn't sound very nice.

But I won't know what I really think about this case until I've seen Melanie Phillips' opinion. She's my infallible compass in the moral maze. Whatever she says, the opposite must be true.

10 July 2010

Moob ybab

You know how, when there's a major power cut affecting a big city, people always expect a mini baby-boom nine months later, after couples take advantage of the extra darkness to do the-thing-that-must-be-done-in-the-dark.

For about six weeks now, the nights in southeast England have been hot and sticky. Sleeping has been difficult. Sleeping-with hardly bears thinking about. One sweaty body in a bed is quite enough, thanks.

Does this mean there'll be a reverse baby boom nine months from now? Or are people so addicted to their filthy animal passions they'll do it whatever the discomfort?

08 July 2010

Confusing times

Once again, the coalition government has shamed Labour on a civil liberties issue. This time, the Supreme Court has found that the Borders Agency can't send gay asylum seekers back to a hostile country, with just a copy of George Michael's Guide to Acting Straight. It seems like an inevitable finding, if we accept that it is a basic human right to be openly gay. I think we pretty much accept that, don't we?

Even Theresa May, whose record on gay rights caused concern about her appointment as Home Secretary, has welcomed the finding  in a completely positive way.

I haven't dared to see what the Daily Mail makes of this. The Express has predictably splashed a scare of millions of gay darkies coming over here, drinking our brightly coloured cocktails, and the appalling folks at Migration Watch have said this is proof that the UK should set its own policies on asylum. By which they can only mean that capital punishment for sexual orientation is not as bad as capital punishment for political reasons.

Human rights codes have to be international, because national governments can't be trusted. They can pass laws that make all kinds of discrimination lawful, and only an international body, like the Council of Europe, can intervene.

Does the ruling mean there will be more successful asylum applications? Probably, but not to the extent the Express seems to believe. But that's a consequence of doing the right thing - acknowledging that persecution on grounds of sexuality is not really any different from persecution for any other reason.

And in the meantime, we need to pursue respect for human rights in those countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence or where homophobic crimes are tacitly allowed by the authorities. I think today Britain is in a better position to do that.

03 July 2010

Now I just feel stupid

The alumnus magazine of my university arrived this week. It has a crossword, which you'd expect to be hard, but here's the introduction:
Final grid entries corresponding to the asterisked clues can be paired to form anagrams of a series of names, with one missing. To achieve this solvers must change one unchecked letter in each pair of the corresponding answers, forming new words. Corrected single letter misprints in the definitions of 15 clues in order, followed by the unjumbled 3 down spell out the thematic position.
Still with us? There's more.
Half of the clued answers are to be entered in reverse and all thematic names consist of two words (one hyphenated). The missing name can be formed from the final letters in the shaded squares and this must be written below the grid. Chambers (2008)  is recommended, but only gives 10 down in conjunction with its direction. 
Closing date is September. I might have understood the instructions by then.

Meanwhile, there's been proof I'm still a swot at heart. I use the swimming pool of my old school, which means I regularly go past the sports hall. Recently it's often been set up for exams, just as it used to be when I was doing O and A levels, with rows of desks carefully spaced out to deter cheating and allow invigilation. And do you know, I find it less intimidating like that