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Guest Blog: The inherent link between theatre & politics

By • Off-West End

Political theatre, however uncomfortable, if successful, should leave audiences thinking about the society they are a part of. We, Dilated Theatre, have produced SUS in response to the 2011 riots, to try to get audiences to look at the root causes of the riots; hopefully moving people away from knee-jerk reactions that allow the introduction of aggressive laws and also allow the neo-liberal machine to motor through unnoticed and unchanged.

Working people, including the middle classes, have battled for rights of equality, whether in the workplace or the right to vote, for over a century. Women still fight for their equality. Lesbian and gay rights face an uphill battle. Not least of course blacks and other ethnic minorities still battle for recognition.

But not long ago, George Osborne suggested that we sell our worker rights for money, when in October of last year he suggested that people swap rights for company shares - indeed employees will be asked to give up protections including some maternity rights under chancellor's deregulation plans.

To sell the rights that some have laid down their lives for is surely not a serious option? What next, a few million for the reintroduction of slavery? And ever since the London bombings of 2005 we have had our rights, as citizens, slowly eroded. We have allowed, in the name of security, successive governments to withdraw certain rights - ironically making the government a far more dangerous entity against its people.

Theatre is the perfect vehicle for this debate because the unity of audience and performers makes everyone involved a participant. A simple example could be the untimely nervous laughter at dramatic moments, which challenges the audience to question what they've seen. At the venue we're performing in (the Lion and Unicorn in Camden), there is a pub downstairs where people can discuss what they've been a part of or, on the journey home, look at the city in a slightly different way.

Politics is a social science and theatre is a social activity and they therefore become intrinsically tied together. It's possible to argue that all theatre is political because all life is at some level a political activity once debated.

What's fantastic about SUS is the fact that in Barrie Keeffe's writing, although dramatically relentless, there is only one polemic moment, and that is still masked with very clever writing. To understand that, I'd urge you to come and see the show.

At the end of the play we show a clip that shows how much the law still unfairly affects black men heavily in our society. And the terrifying prospect is, that although it has not yet been leveraged to its full extent, with the same law our government can remove us from society for twenty eight days without seeing a lawyer.

What has been fascinating is that people responding to our work have not yet said "I can't believe people spoke like that - or possibly still do"; it's an accepted truth that was and sadly still is a fact of life (as demonstrated in the case of PC Kevin Hughes and PC Alex MacFarlane).

Theatre is a voice - however small - that can send the message that these options and choices proposed by those we have given power to, are quite simply an affront to democratic values. It is the unity of the theatrical experience that has its roots in society.

- by Alexander Neal

SUS continues at the Lion & Unicorn until Saturday (23 March 2013)


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