An open letter to the most dangerous man in UK politics, from our publisher James Hogan. Click to expand.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, in which 96 football supporters lost their lives at an FA Cup semi-final. In the years since momentum has been building for full disclosure of the truth behind the tragedy.
Beyond Hillsborough is a documentary drama created by two Merseyside teachers, Joanne Halliday and Layla Dowie, based on original, verbatim interviews with survivors, family members, politicians, police and journalists.
The play was first performed in Edinburgh in 2012 and is now being published to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy. It is also a unique educational resource which will help schoolchildren to understand bereavement, political activism, and the ongoing fight to clear the names of the Liverpool supporters who were smeared in the aftermath of Hillsborough.
Royalties from sales of this book will be shared between the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC), the Hillsborough Family Support Group and Hope for Hillsborough; all three groups have been involved in the development of this play.
Read below for the thoughts of contributor and HJC member Stephen Kelly, who lost his brother at Hillsborough, followed by a short extract from the play:
I first heard about the drama Beyond Hillsborough on the local radio. Immediately it came to me that the people involved were young. It was my belief they were future campaign members, people that could carry on to help achieve truth and justice for the 96 victims of Hillsborough and the many thousands left traumatised, due to the cover-up that followed the events of 15 April 1989. Also they would ensure that the message will, and
rightly so, stay loud and clear.
I spoke to teachers and students, I then had to be involved; their enthusiasm was infectious – the relationship with family members and survivors was so respectful; you just had to support it.
I first watched the drama at the school, an evening for
Hillsborough families, survivors and families of the cast. It was very distressing, yet so well put together. I travelled to Edinburgh to see first-hand how people would react to the drama outside Merseyside. I was shocked, yet pleased at the public response, I was really confident public opinion was with us, and through a group of students in a Quaker House in Edinburgh, my spirits
My first instinct was right, I watched the cast grow and gel together becoming a unit, I was proud to have been of some help. The cast and crew involved should also be proud of the part they played in putting together a message from young people who listened to us, that message is JUSTICE FOR THE 96. I am really confident they will carry on and support the Hillsborough
campaign in the future and bring it to its rightful conclusion.
The extract below is taken from a conversation between the journalist Rogan Taylor and the MP for Liverpool Steve Rotherham.
Rogan: The Sun headlines, it’s still not over is it. And what we, yah know the headlines every day from the Leveson inquiry, is just constant re-affirmation of what the Scousers knew 20 years ago, that these bastards don’t care about anybody. If the South Yorkshire Police want this story told and Mrs T wants to do the South Yorkshire Police a favour because they biffed up the unions, sure, we’ll have a headline – ‘The Truth – they pissed on their own people,’ why not? That’s who we’re dealing with here, the people who tapped Millie Dowler’s phone, the people who deleted her messages off her phone
to her parents.
Steve Rotherham: 23 years ago, the people of Merseyside took the bold decision to say that they thought there was some collusion between senior members of the government, police officers and the press, an’ 23 years ago, everyone was goin’, ‘don’t be ridiculous.’ I’m on the DCMS committee an’ believe me we were right, there’s not even a miniscule of percentage of me that thinks we weren’t right in what we thought.
Steve Rotherham: I agonised literally over every word in the speech that I made and decided at the last minute to read the names out. The only person I’d ran it through to was Sandra, me wife and I couldn’t get to the names because I erm kept filling
up. Nobody had ever read out names of any victims before, the only time that ever happens is when the Prime Minister reads out on a Wednesday before PMQs the names of any fallen from Afghanistan or Iraq, so I was very conscious that I didn’t want the people in Parliament to be pissed off thinking ‘who does he think he is?’ I didn’t want them to think I’m a bouncy Scouser, I am a bouncy Scouser but I didn’t want them to think that. On the other hand I knew the importance that perhaps when you hear their names and their ages that it might get over to these very tough politicians sittin’ round the chamber the enormity of the loss, yanno when I did John Paul, an he was ten, I think I was trying to concentrate on what I was saying but there was an audible ‘dear me’ when I said ten years of age and they took his blood alcohol levels in case he was
drunk and so I think those kind of things hit home.
Rogan: You know to outsiders Liverpool looks like the kind of place where all the spears point outwards and if you mess with them then they’ll never forget it. But when you get in the city you realise that they’re stabbing each other which is why we’ve never had a local government worthy of its name. It’s weird – a weird mix with a strange solidarity. You know the first scarf on the Shankly gates after Hillsborough wasn’t a red one, it was blue.
Dominique Morisseau’s play Detroit ’67 has won the 2014 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History. The play is the first part of a trilogy based on Morisseau’s home city of Detroit, and examines the effects of the city’s 1967 riots.
The award includes a $100,000 cash prize as well as career assistance from Columbia University Libraries, and inclusion in a new teaching website that will put the work in historical context, and offer study guides and scholarly discussion.
It is the second consecutive play published by Oberon Books to win the award, emulating the achievement of Dan O’Brien’s documentary drama The Body of An American (2013). O’Brien’s play explored the impact of Paul Watson’s infamous image of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993.
Awarding the prize, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith of Columbia University said: “We are thrilled to award this year’s prize to Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67, an exceptional work that exemplifies the mission of the prize in its exploration of the rich history of our country through the power of theater.”
Detroit ‘67 received its world premiere at The Public Theater in New York, on March 12, 2013 and was presented in association with the Classical Theater of Harlem and the National Black Theatre. Prior to that, it was developed with the assistance of The Public Theater as well as The Lark Play Development Center, New York City.
The Gate Theatre in London has been instrumental in bringing these playwrights to British audiences, staging Morisseau’s UK debut Sunset Baby (2012), as well as The Body of An American in January this year.
Are we living in the age of prescriptive documentary theatre? And will it ever pass? Playwrights must always respond to the world we are compelled to live in, but what does such forensic focus do for the art of the dramatist? Do new young dramatists feel pressured to expose and explore society’s problems at the expense of their art? One might well argue that it has always been so. But has it? In 1938 Brecht’s The Life of Galileo foreshadowed the horrors of nuclear war, five years before the first atom bombs were dropped in 1943 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet this is one of Brecht’s most accessible and entertaining plays. The eloquent speech for Galileo in Scene 14 has stuck in my memory since I witnessed Michael Gambon’s towering performance in the 1980 NT production, directed by John Dexter.
Molière’s Tartuffe which Oberon publishes in fine translations by Chris Campbell and Ranjit Bolt has proved to be one of the most entertaining plays in the repertory, revived again and again, laughter echoing down the ages, but it is also regarded as the seminal play on religious zealotry and hypocrisy. Could the subject be more relevant than it is today? And why not laugh at ridiculous extremes? Stoppard, Bennett, Bean and Brenton, among others, have entertained us gloriously for decades while still having plenty to say about the world or the state of the nation. Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice took us on a riotous journey through four waves of immigration in East London since the 17th Century. The thought police whined and wailed while the rest of us laughed. Brenton & Hare’s Pravda is a thrilling piece of theatre about the power of the press, and it might well have started to erode the walls of the Murdoch court of scandal, the News of the World, which fell in 2011 like the Berlin Wall. Who would have thought it possible that theatre has such power?
But there are still too many thumpingly turgid polemics playing to the converted. Worthy issues, earnestly documented, using actors as mechanical mouthpieces, rather than human characters. As John Whiting says in The Art of the Dramatist, theatre is not a public address system. Agreed, yet all too often I long to escape in the interval feeling overstuffed with noble thoughts but starved of wit, style and poetry. Oddly, it might seem, even radically minded fringe theatres are turning back the clock, well some of the time. Witness recent revivals at the Jermyn Street Theatre – The River Line (Charles Morgan 1952), On Approval (Frederick Lonsdale 1927); The Potsdam Quartet (David Pinner 1973).
The Finborough Theatre – London Wall (John van Druten 1931), Cornelius (JB Priestley 1935), Outward Bound (Sutton Vane 1923), The White Carnation (RC Sherriff 1953). In 1988 The Orange Tree produced Absolute Hell (Rodney Ackland 1952) which led to the NT and Channel 4 productions. The Almeida recently produced Ackland’s Before the Party. Even The Park, the flashy new theatre in Finsbury Park has just given us a revival of Thark (Ben Travers 1927). And these are just a few revivals published by Oberon, all now back in favour. I wonder why? Entertaining perhaps?
James Hogan, Oberon Books (November, 2013)
N F Simpson (1919-2011) was said to be many things. During his near-century on the planet, he served as playwright, teacher, satirist, bank clerk, philosopher, a one-man-band English wing of the Theatre of the Absurd, army intelligence officer, father, translator, sketch-writer and poet. Coming to fame relatively late in life, his early successes A Resounding Tinkle (1957) and One Way Pendulum (1959) placed him in the company of Angry Young Men. These, however, were not his natural bedfellows.
As the writer David Benedictus once observed, Simpson had the misfortune to not be foreign like Ionesco or rude like Orton. His was a particularly restrained form of English humour, a precise extension of his personality. Simpson was certainly no self-publicist and, as a consequence, he became a marginalised figure: largely absent from the theatre after 1965, and with most of his subsequent work out of circulation. It falls, then, to a new collection of his work – ‘Most of What Follows is a Complete Waste of Time’ – to fully restore this brilliant but neglected writer in the public consciousness.
Simpson had the pause before Harold Pinter, planted the seed of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and inspired the comic philosophy of Tom Stoppard. His beguiling plays were full of memorable set-pieces, endless diversions, upturned clichés and dark philosophies. His worlds were essentially ordinary, but worlds in which everything was equal and interchangeable – the private and public, animals and humans, biscuits and books. Comedy emerged from a determination to hold onto reason with whitened knuckles. To quote his introduction to Some Tall Tinkles (1968), his characters followed “a simple faith in the axiom that for those to whom life is an exercise in survival, the secret is in knowing how to ride with the punch.”
In the five years immediately prior to his death, N.F. Simpson – or Wally to his friends – underwent what many artists enjoy only after they’ve gone: a resurgence of interest. There was a season at the BFI, a new play at Jermyn Street Theatre, revivals of A Resounding Tinkle at both the Royal Court and Donmar Warehouse, a BBC Radio documentary about his life and work, and the purchase of his papers by the British Library.
The last of these was characteristic of a gradual effort to put his house in order. Working as researcher on the 2007 radio documentary, I soon found that Wally was keen to establish the whereabouts of all his work. This put me on a five-year road of discovery: archive upon archive, covering radio and television, stage and print. Part of this process resulted in the quite accidental discovery of Pinter’s lost sketch ‘Umbrellas’ at the British Library. Even as a big Pinter fan, however, I was slightly more excited to finally locate a copy of Simpson’s ‘Take It Away!’ in the same Nottingham Playhouse revue.
The British Library’s invaluable Simpson papers – acquired in 2009 – gift us many treasures and insights. Oberon’s new, authorised miscellany of Simpson’s writings brings some of this material back from obscurity, including his first professional writing (for The Tribune in 1953) and a number of important, pre-fame pieces for Birkbeck College magazine The Lodestone. Thanks to this material, ‘Most of What Follows…’ acts as the most complete map of his creative life, revealing its continuities and experimental diversity. Perhaps now we can all of us enjoy the many different facets of Simpson and, with one collective push, assert his true place in the canon of great English comic writers.
This article was first published by the British Library’s English and Drama blog
Ian Greaves is co-editor of Most of What Follows is a Complete Waste of Time: Monologues, Dialogues, Sketches and Other Writings by N.F. Simpson
Click to watch the short film ‘Reality is an Illusion Cased by Lack of N.F. Simpson’. David Quantick presents a distinctive appraisal of ‘Wally’ Simpson and examines Simpson’s impact on the turbulent theatre scene of the late ’50s, the influence of his plays, his disappearance and his return to The Royal Court Theatre after 40 years with a new play entitled If So, Then Yes. Contributors include John Mortimer, Jonathan Miller, John Fortune, Eric Sykes, Jonathan Coe, Armando Iannucci, David Nobbs, Barry Cryer, Eleanor Bron, Ned Sherrin, and Simpson himself.
In advance of ‘The Irish and the City’ conference at Birkbeck, University of London, which focuses attention on the depiction of the urban landscape in Irish theatre, and the relationship between cultural performance and cities, this extract by Brian Singleton from Fintan Walsh’s ‘That Was Us’: Contemporary Irish Theatre and Performance reflects on the importance of space and place in contemporary Irish theatre and performance:
Since its inception, the Dublin Theatre Festival has been associated indelibly with buildings, whether Italianate in design (such as the Gaiety Theatre), or black-box (such as the Project spaces). It has even accepted with good grace performance in circus tents in the-(almost)round (Footsbarn, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, DTF 1990), perambulatory experiences in a public reception room (The Lost Days of Ollie Deasy by Macnas and Mikel Murfi at the Round Room, Mansion House, DTF 2000), and reconfigured exhibition spaces for traverse configurations (National Theatre of Scotland, Black Watch by Gregory Burke in the RDS Shelbourne Hall, DTF 2008). But in those alternative spaces the productions were of dramatic play texts staged in environments that added new viewing strategies beyond the control of theatres in which spectators no longer sat passively in the dark. In the spaces of popular entertainment, other than theatres, spectators can see each other and form communities of viewers who feed off each other’s engagement with the performance, and provide a component of the scenography with which performances often interact.
But none of the above-mentioned performances actually interacted with or was responsive to the actual site of the performance in Dublin. They were all touring productions parachuted in to Dublin venues that replicated the conditions of the first performances from their home spaces and cities. ANU Productions’ celebrated trilogy (and proposed tetralogy) of performances at the Dublin Theatre Festivals in 2011 and 2012, however, emerged from a particular area of north Dublin, colloquially known as the ‘Monto,’ immortalised in a song by The Dubliners. The area is bounded by Gardiner Street, Talbot Street, Seán McDermott Street and Amiens Street, and is a short stroll from the Abbey Theatre, where Ireland as a nation was imagined more than a century before, and from the General Post Office (G.P.O.) where a new Irish state was proclaimed. But the Monto had a less salubrious past, being Dublin’s main red-light district in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nowadays the area is a paradox of sorts. In one corner of Foley Street (formerly Montgomery Street from which the Monto takes its name) are Dublin City Council’s progressive arts spaces (The Lab and DanceHouse) for emerging artists, on the northern side lies a former Magdalene laundry, and to the east lies the semi-derelict remains of a social housing project that in the 1970s was blighted by poverty and the arrival of heroin to the city. Louise Lowe (joint Artistic Director of ANU Productions, with Owen Boss), and several company members have direct connections with the Monto, and in some respects the site-specific productions that emerged from the area were a performative engagement with it as social archive.
ANU Productions also challenge what we conventionally know to be theatre. Their mission statement points out the company’s devotion to ‘an interdisciplinary approach to performance/installation that cross-pollinates visual art, dance and theatre in an intensely collaborative way’ presenting work that creates ‘innovative exchanges with audiences.’ At the helm is director Louise Lowe and artist Owen Boss with a small core team of associate artists. Lowe and Boss’ track record in site-specific work stretches back to their collaboration in a community site-specific performance entitled Tumbledowntown (written by Lowe) with Roundabout Youth Theatre in Ballymun in 2005 that was reimagined in 2007 for the Hotel Ballymun project in one of the remaining social housing tower blocks weeks before its demolition. The company’s early work (two productions in 2009) included both a play in the non-theatre spaces of Project Arts Centre (Declan Freenan’s Corners) and a site-responsive performance Basin in Lowe’s former childhood home, the gate lodge of Blessington Street Basin. And that blend of hosting and ghosting, spilling out and over the spaces of their rehearsal laboratories and into the streets, communities and found spaces of their artistic neighbourhood, and for some in the company, including Lowe herself, of their former community, is a major characteristic of ANU Productions’ work. Nurtured and championed by Dublin Fringe Festival and its director Róise Goan, ANU Productions’ first major critical success came with World’s End Lane, the first of a proposed tetralogy of performances in and in response to the people, communities and histories of the Monto in north inner-city Dublin. The performance (focusing on the history of prostitution in the Monto) was nominated for Best Production by the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards and won the Fringe Festival’s Best Off-Site Production in 2010.
The production was revived in 2011 as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival to play in tandem with the second part, Laundry, an encounter with the state-sanctioned abuse of women in Magdalene laundries. And for the 2012 festival the third part of the cycle, The Boys of Foley Street, a roller-coaster journey through the heroin epidemic in the area of the 1970s and 1980s, premièred.
World’s End Lane
World’s End Lane began for three spectators at a time in the foyer of Dublin City Council’s arts space, The Lab, on the corner of what once was known as Montgomery Street and on the very spot of one of the most notorious brothels of the area. The blurring of the lines between real life and performance life, once tickets were checked, provided an unsettling context for spectators who were immediately separated and shouted at by two male performers acting as pimps to the performed prostitution. Spectators were directed to listen to audio recordings of the history of the area, and ordered into a ghosted brothel bedroom in The Lab’s foyer exhibition area. In the brothel room, I (and I can only talk about the performance in the first person as I had no other co-referent spectator) as an individual sat in an intimate encounter with a prostitute barely inches apart, unsure of the modality of the transaction expected, all the while eyes glared in at me through peepholes in the walls. Suddenly a man burst into the room and engaged in a stylised movement score somewhere between a sexual encounter and a fight. Though embarrassed by being co-present at this moment of intimacy and fearful of their proximity in a highly physical choreography, I did not participate. Ordered out of the room, further historical contextualisation of the Monto’s past, with factual details of the numbers and types of women in the brothels, of the men who frequented them, and of the diseases and illnesses suffered by all, were imparted to me. Sitting with headphones at the corner of the street separated from it by glass walls, I viewed the street in its performance of daily life but was also subjected to the gazes of the passers-by; both subjected to and subjecting the street and its legacy, I was deeply troubled. While at the window a young woman streetwalker caught my eye. Was she a performer or a member of the public? She marched over to me accusingly and gestured to me to come outside. Immediately I, as spectator, was caught in the first real ethical dilemma of the production: should the young woman who may or may not have been a prostitute, be followed? My reluctance to follow her instigated a moment of crisis when I would not play the game of performed intimacy, at which point the actor broke character and declared ‘I am an actor playing the part of Harriet Butler,’ thus relieving any anxiety I might have. But reality impinged to further dissipate the tension as two local children wrote themselves into the performance unexpectedly and brought the scene to the contemporary moment in which I learned that a campaign by Frank Duff and the Legion of Mary to close down the brothels may have been successful in 1925 but decades later and in the contemporary reality of the street, prostitution was still prevalent. Safely returned to The Lab I was put to work filling plastic statues of the Virgin Mary with methylated spirit, and I was determined to fill as many as possible, not knowing the reason why, as the most notorious madam of them all (May Oblong) slowly circled towards me. But before she did, I was ordered out of the building by one of the pimps and left reeling with the sensuously intimate exposure of a history and my own place within it. But I reeked of meths and took with me the near-miss of addiction and the adrenaline rush of an encounter with a past social history collapsed into the present. The Irish Times critic Peter Crawley wrote of his encounter with the performance thus:
Over the last thrilling, terrifying and utterly transfixing hour I have not learned this history, but lived it; dumbly obeying and following strangers, listening to scandals, confessing secrets, conspiring with an anguished junkie, feeling unnerved and giddy by the one-on-one intimacy of Louise Lowe’s production, agonising over my role as either participant, voyeur or non-intervening citizen, tumbling finally from its enthralling mesh of then and now in a daze of different perspectives.
Click below for an exclusive interview with playwright Caroline Bird, who talks about her latest project Chamber Piece and how working with a large ensemble gave her the freedom to create her most ambitious work yet.
In her own words ‘theatre is collaboration, a script is just a recipe’. Chamber Piece serves up a dark, satirical tale of ‘clipboards and death’, set in a twisted near future where capital punishment has been reintroduced. Click the image to see more.