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Signs of Impermanence & Fascism

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We know that theatre is an impermanent art form, but this is ridiculous: an improvised theatre built from recycled bits of wood and plasterboard has been erected in a school playground in Borough High Street.

The Jellyfish, as it is called, will house two new plays, and will then be dismantled and recycled again. Or will it be recycled as a theatre in another playground, as the Courtyard in Stratford-upon-Avon might well be?

The answer to that latter question might be forthcoming at today's RSC Press launch for the new theatre plans in Stratford. I like theatres that are built not to last but then defy expectations. The old Hampstead Theatre portakabin was a good example as, in a different way, was the doomed Dome, now flourishing as the O2 Centre.

It's the old circus mentality -- you pitch your tent, you do the show, you move on -- and it surely strikes to the very heart of what is exciting and improvised about the best sort of theatre.

But the Jellyfish seems an odd name for a construct that looks like Noah's Ark designed by John Napier, with bits of boarding and barricading protruding from every orifice.

The jellyfish, apparently, is a symbol of impermanence, coming and going with no apparent reason, but always seeking clean waters that we humans are busy polluting in the name of progress.

Fair enough, but not good enough as a name for the theatre they've built, which has an instant appeal and friendly atmosphere entirely wasted on the play they've opened it with, Simon Wu's Oikos.

Actually, Oikos is a pretty silly name for a play, too, though Greek scholars will recognise the root word for both economy and ecology.

As for the jellyfish: not until you've been badly bitten by them -- as I was in a pre-show swim in Blackpool one summer -- do you appreciate their full slippery nastiness, and I'm all for any pollution that keeps them at bay.

I'm very glad to see, too, that the summer epidemic of them on the Costa Blanca is now over, and I can look forward to swimming in the sea there later this month and not quivering with jellyfish fever.

Why are we still so blase about racist protest groups like the English Defence League, who rioted in Bradford at the weekend? I ran into a busload of them at a motorway cafe on Saturday morning, coming from Southampton, brazenly offensive en masse and soused as herrings at ten o'clock, a disgrace to the flag of St George they flaunt like Nazi insignia.

The Muslim community of Bradford remained unprovoked and unstirred. The police know who these hooligans are -- many of them double as English soccer fans -- yet do nothing to outlaw them beyond spending thousands of pounds to protect the public peace when they gather, illegally, to incite a riot.

Bradford's great man of letters and the theatre, J B Priestley, would be turning in his grave if he had one.

His ashes are scattered in the graveyard of a stunningly beautiful little church in Hubberholme, which I visited on a hike through Wharfedale, argubaly the most dramatic landscape in the whole of England.

Priestley loved the Dales, and his plaque inside the church records that he found Hubberholme "one of the smallest and pleasantest places in the world."

The Hubberholme church of St Michael and All Angels was host this weekend, too, to the village flower festival, in line with other small towns and villages all over Yorkshire; it's harvest festival and rush-gathering time, the sort of deep-dyed English time of year celebrated in Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem.

We sat in the wooden pews, surveying the floral displays, chatting to locals, dunking our digestive biscuits in cups of piping hot tea. The modest entrance fee and sale of teas is going towards installing a toilet for the many visitors.

Visitors, that is, who really love our country and don't want to deface it by pretending they do in the name of fascism. 


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