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A square peg in a square hole

A square peg in a square hole

I’d never heard of square bullets. Or the Finborough Pub Theatre. Or hardly knew, to my shame, Tony Harrison – although I did know some of his work, most notably ‘V’.

So this could have been a recipe for disaster, especially when travelling 70 miles just for this performance. But the reviews were good and we are always on the lookout for something new to tempt us. And it turned out this was a rare treat indeed.

So soon after seeing Copenhagen at Chichester, and Women in Power at the Nuffield City Theatre, this revival of Harrison’s 1992 play “Square Rounds” was a perfect foil to both. Performed by a strong all-women cast playing strong men and strong women, the clash between science for good and science for war (is that never good?) was explored in a history told from the First World War back to the early 18 and mid 19 century and forward to the present day. The poetry blended arguments in the way that the original Puckle Machine Gun rather bizarrely was designed to fire round bullets at Christians and square bullets at Muslim Turks.

The easy poetry of this play blended the arguments as they raged back and forth, which made each monologue and dialogue mesmerisingly gripping. Simple set and costume changes moved the scene from factory floor to laboratory to battlefield and allowed the audience to concentrate on the sublime delivery of the words. Each discrete passage is conjured into being by the revolving magician’s box and her/his top hat, from which chemical elements are produced to show the progression from fertilisers to feed the world to chlorine gas to kill it. As Frtiz Haber, a German Jewish chemist (played by Philippa Quinn) responsible for the chemistry of both life and death, sets out – bullets and bombs are just chemical warfare which uses gas to propel death rather than cause it directly. And at least your corpse can be identified after a gas attack.

Haber is also the ringmaster magician who calls into being the other main characters – including his own wife Clara Immerwahr, passionately played by Gracy Goldman. Clara is another German Jewish chemist and the first woman chemist to be awarded a doctorate in Germany. A pacifist, she argues vehemently with her husband and points out that the anti-semitic Kaiser was unable to develop the gas-mask which would have won the war for Germany because he already had too many Jews working for him. And the gas-mask was being developed by another Jewish scientist.

As we approach Armistice Day, this essentially anti-war play will resonate strongly with many, and will be thought provoking for any who see it.

And the intimate space of the Finborough Pub Theatre was the perfect venue. 50 seats so you can almost touch the actors. You will certainly be touched by the emotion.

This revival only has a few days left to run. Catch it if you can.

★★★★☆

At the Finborough, London, until 29 September.

Eyam - A Plague on All Their Houses

Eyam – A Plague on All Their Houses

The plague was something you you lived with – or died with – in the 17th century. It had been around for 300 years. It could strike anywhere. Without warning. With little remedy.

This new play by Matt Hartley at Shakespeare’s Globe explores what happened to the people of Eyam, a Derbyshire village of some 350 inhabitants, when plague arrives shortly after the new Minister and his wife.

The play is a factual account of the decision of the villagers to stay in Eyam, quarantining the village. 260 villagers died but it is estimated that they saved many thousands more by not spreading the disease throughout the neighbouring towns and villages. And therein lies the strength and weakness of the play. Sufficient facts are known of he people and personalities to ground this telling in the solid history of the events. And there is sufficient unknown to allow a rich development of the moral dilemma and debate leading up to a decision to stay or to flee. The enormity of this single collective decision is a powerful tale. But this central element of the story was given cursory attention. The new minister says no-one should leave until 28 days after the last death from plague. Everyone nods. Moral dilemma sorted.

Many of the characters themselves are well enough drawn. Reverend Mompesson (Sam Crande) and his wife Katherine (Priyanga Burford), the Gravedigger Marshall Howe (Howard Ward), and the unfortunate newly arrived tailor’s assistant George Viccars (Jordan Metcalfe) who brings the plague flea in damp cloth ordered from London are all central to the unfolding tale. Back-stories – invented or based on fact – are given to virtually all in order give life to a dying village. But the chance to develop the collective decision to choose quarantine, to chooses almost certain death was badly missed.

Matt Hartley gave the village a pantomime villain, a landowner trying to intimidate people into selling him land. (It was for a new dress for his wife that Viccars ordered the bolt of plague infested cloth). Our villain did enable some threads to be drawn together, but this was no Alan Rickmanish serpentine bad guy and there may be opportunities to strengthen this character as the season progresses. 

Having said all that this was a well delivered story as far as it went, and the humour sat realistically alongside the pathos.

The final roll-call of the 260 villagers who lost their lives was breathtaking. The play is worth seeing for this alone.

★★★☆☆

Shakespeare’s Globe until 13 October 2018

Power to the People - well, at least to the women.

Power to the People – well, at least to the women.

I had the delightful experience of attending the press preview of Women in Power, a new version of an old (very old) play, at the the Nuffield City Theatre in Southampton.

Directed by Blanche McInityre, this is a new interpretation of Aristophanes’ satire on the weakness of government, a Parliament of Women.  Originally performed by men for men, these comic plays were the Spitting Image of the day. Rude, crude, comic and with a political barb with which to prod the incompetent and pompous politicians and celebrities of ancient Athens. Or as one of the many amusing explanatory display boards pointed out – “as we like to call it, modern Athens”.

Co-authored by poets, performers, comics and Labour’s vey own Jess Phillips MP, this collaboration took me back to the days when we were first trying to get local parties to accept women only shortlists for parliamentary and local government selections (and unfortunately still true today, a generation later, in some places). “No women want to put themselves forward” was all too often the mantra of the those happy with the status quo, “if you force us to have AWS, we’ll only get stupid women.” To which my invariable, and rather intolerant, response was, “Well you won’t notice the difference in that case because you’ve got plenty of stupid men.”

This satire could have been brought up to date. It would have been easy to set something similar in the corridors of Westminster today, or the White House or Kremlin, or the amongst the captains of industry around the world. But the original conceit would have been lost, and there were enough references in the language, the costumes and the props to draw parallels with the modern world without over-cooking it into a Trumpian parody.

In one of the more modernised speeches to win the idea of ceding power to woman, the story of the search for a new senior member of staff is recounted. Despite the number of well-qualified and capable women, it is always Colin from accounts who is promoted. But as a result of the vote in the Assembley, women don’t get equality, but absolute power. Over everything.

The six performers brought a tremendous energy to the play which additionally brought together dance, music and song. And they were clearly having great fun at the same time. The story rattles along from women disguising themselves as men to subvert the government and place all power in the hands of women, to the turmoil of creating an egalitarian society where no one can agree whether all, or just some, property is theft.

Like Aristophanes a couple of thousand years ago, today’s authors explore the real issues of governance, power and equality with humour. But this isn’t just gentle satire, although it is that too. It is laugh out loud funny from fake facial hair start to giant penis end (of the play, that is).

And the early rejoinder “fuck off Colin” will live with me for a long time.

★★★★☆

At the Nuffield City Theatre, Southampton until 29 September.

  • Co-authored by Wendy Cope, Jenny Eclair, Suhayla El-Bushra, Natalie Haynes, Shappi Khorsandi, Brona C Titley and Jess Phillips MP.
  • Performed by Lydia Rose Bewley, Elizabeth Boag, Anna Fordham, Lisa Kerr, Alicia McKenzie, and Anne Odeke.

This message of contempt to the Jewish community must be reversed

Labour Leader’s come and go. All are criticised by senior members of their party at one time or another – one a pacifist, another a war-monger. This one too right wing, that one too left wing. One former leader was even expelled for refusing to leave the the 1918 coalition.

But never did I expect to hear that a senior Labour MP would tell a Leader of the Labour Party to his face, in public, “you are an anti-Semitic racist.” When the news broke whilst I was at a dinner party (sorry Owen Jones) with friends and comrades last evening it was a jaw-dropping moment. The predictable, vile, backlash against Margaret Hodge took just a few minutes to gather momentum, but no-one seemed to be asking the main questions. How the fuck did we let this happen? How could it come to this?

On the 12 December 2016 Jeremy Corbyn told the Labour Party Equalities Committee that Labour would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism. Of course, this was a matter for the Committee rather than the Leader, but the necessary pre-meetings had been held, and phone calls made, to ensure that the definition would indeed be adopted. As it was – together with the complete list of examples presented by the IHRA to “serve as illustrations” of anti-Semitic behaviour. This was welcomed by the Jewish Labour Movement, co-opted to the Equalities Committee and in attendance for the first time, who believed that this meeting and successive actions might be seen as a turning point in dealing with anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, especially with the Leader’s acceptance of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately those successive actions have culminated with the Labour Party dismissing some of those worked examples and substituting in their place a new code of conduct which, in the words of the Labour Party, “contextualises and adds to the working examples to produce a practical guidelines that a political party can apply in disciplinary cases.” If only that were true.

When Baroness Jan Royall and I, under the direction of Labour’s NEC, spent some time in 2016 meeting with representatives of Jewish and other communities to hear their views of the the growing allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour some of the questions we always asked were in an effort to discover a universal definition of anti-Semitism. Unsurprisingly there were many suggestions – depending on the community in question – but what was universal was that anti-Semitism must be defined by those who suffer it. This should be non-controversial, as it is with other people who have faced discrimination, persecution or worse because of their gender, or race or other protected characteristic. The production of the IHRA definition and examples in May 2016 brought some consensus to the debate and the IHRA definition has been adopted by many countries and international organisations, including the United States Senate and State Department, and the European Parliament (remember them) as well as the UK Government and many local authorities across the UK. And, until yesterday, the Labour Party.

So why is this important? The Labour Party is a separate organisation. Surely it is right and proper for it to ‘contextualise its working guidelines’.

It’s important for two reasons. Firstly for the signals it sends, and secondly for for the legal implications of any future disciplinary hearings dealing with anti-Semitism, particularly should they be played out in court as has been threatened by some. As far as the signals are concerned you only have to to take a cursory glance at the reaction from the Jewish communities across the country. When the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Labour’s anti-Semitism definition sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community” you have to take notice. Unless, of course, you still believe that this is all a conspiracy to destabilise the Labour Party. Or that you are one of those who have been a ‘member of the the Labour Party for 40 years and never seen any anti-Semitism’.

The second reason why this change to the definition by the Labour Party is important is because of how this will be interpreted. The specific examples which have been omitted from Labour’s re-working of the IHRA definition are:

  • Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country
  • Claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour
  • Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations
  • Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis

Any quasi-judicial committee of the Labour Party (or judicial hearing for that matter) would be entitled to take a ‘purposive approach’ to determining what is meant by the words of the code of conduct. By excluding these words it is clear that the purpose of the code is to declare these examples as not anti-Semitic. It is no coincidence that these anti-Semitic tropes are some of the more common examples one can see in every day use – including by Labour Party members (unless you are one of those who have been a ‘member of… etc’). I am sure that the the new General Counsel of the Labour Party, almost immediately promoted to Executive Director so he must be good, would have advised the NEC of this.

The Labour Party has now adopted a position which specifically accepts that the four examples listed above are NOT anti-Semitic. That is the only conclusion of this irrational, incompetent misstep by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. In the eyes of some the Labour Party has made itself by one ill-judged action officially institutionally anti-Semitic. Which is why Margaret Hodge railed at the Leader. And which brings me back to my original question. How the fuck did we let this happen?

The Labour Party says that the four points are covered elsewhere in the new code (they’re not) but if that is the case why change the IHRA paper instead of adding to it? Or why agree the IHRA paper in the first place? And true to form, the NEC have decided to add insult to injury by retrospectively seeking further consultation with the Jewish community (good luck with that).

We have been in and out of the last chance saloon on this issue so many times a revolving door is clearly needed, but even now, even now, the NEC could do the right thing. It could meet with members of the Jewish communities – if they are willing – and then hold its hands up to this mistake and just put it right. It won’t rebuild trust overnight. But is might be the first step on a long road which would be welcome.

As NEC member, Ann Black, said in her latest public report: “I think the party would be in a better place if we kept our commitment to the full IHRA paper, including illustrative examples as agreed by the NEC’s equalities committee in December 2016 at Jeremy Corbyn’s request.”

Quite.


IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism

Labour Party Code of Conduct

All Places that the Eye of Heaven Visits

Mark Rylance and Shakespeare’s Globe brought a company of 23 actors to Westminster Abbey for a unique event to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. They created a beautiful and unexpected world where you could meet the war-weary soldier or the hapless lover, behold a great Monarch or bide awhile with a lone and prayerful soul as you explore the famous Abbey. This is a collection of fleeting and intimate encounters with Shakespeare’s drama, poetry and song beneath the soaring ribs of London’s tremendous Westminster Abbey. And it’s sold out, so you need to book for next year.

As you wander the Abbey you can be accosted by a player or two, some like students with backpacks emerging from the the strolling crowd, others in full Shakespearean dress, others just idling in jeans and sweatshirt by the tomb of this or that monarch. Each deliver a passage from a play or sonnet – some well known, others less so (to me at least). You can’t see everything and don’t worry about what you miss. What you do see will be worth it.

Having been last year we knew what to expect. It is tempting to follow the crowd but we knew that you soon split naturally into smaller groups so we immediately left the madding crowd for one of the aisles of side chapels. And almost immediately fell in with Mark Rylance himself, one of our finest current actors whether in a Shakespearean or contemporary setting. Rylance clearly enjoys bringing Shakespeare closer to the people and he is as content performing to the two of us (and a few others who had followed our lead) as to 2,000 on a wider stage. He did some more theatrical speeches elsewhere in the evening but for us – Sonnet 81:

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

In his battered suit with a raincoat over his arm, he was a man of the people as he wandered the Abbey.

And at the end as we all reassembled close to the tomb of the unknown soldier, summoned by mournful Elizabethan horns, Rylance mingled with the crowd, greeting old friends and acknowledging the good wishes from others. The Abbey columns were illuminated with gentle coloured lights. And then the whole of the players joined the audience and then made their way to the centre, voices raised in a soaring spring-themed song.

Only an hour and a quarter, but so much packed in to a truly wonderful experience. Watch out for tickets next year – but not until we’ve got ours.

✯✯✯✯✯

Westminster Abbey

To Kill a King

That’s what many people think Rufus Norris has done with his new production of Macbeth in the National Theatre. Take a stalwart of Shakespearean drama and completely murdered it. Many critics were scathing about all aspects of the play. “It is ugly to look at” – What’s on Stage, “bleak and often brutal” – Henry Hitchings, “the play struggles to rise about the sheer Stygian ghastliness” – Ann Treneman, and largely summed up by “The aim, I presume, was to create an especially atmospheric Macbeth, one seeped in inky-black mystique. But unfortunately the result is bizarrely flat,” – Rosemary Waugh.

In fact, most of the criticism was directed at the stage design rather than the performance, but I found that one of the most attractive things about this production. This is not the best Macbeth I have seen. Not by a country mile. But it is not the complete turkey that the criteratti set out to find.

Let’s deal with that set design first of all. The backdrop to this massive stage at the National was what seemed to be crumpled black plastic drapes, twisted and heavily layered, sheet upon sheet. At times it gave an immense depth to the play acting out in in front of you. At others it limited the vision to the a more intimate portion of the stage. Someone described it as seaweed crossed with shredded bin-liner, and that’s exactly what it looked like. When it wasn’t looking like Highlands of Scotland, or tapestries in Cawdor Castle, or Burnham Wood.

A rotating castle set exposed different rooms of Cawdor and other castles, and a sweeping runway gave height and depth to the broader action on moor and mountain.

It was on this runway we first meet the witches. No mysterious phantoms these. A simple threesome. No animatronics or flying trapezes, but one takes a high-speed run around the place, with an equally high-speed trill of a cackle.

And for the main parts? For me this is where the disappointment, if there is some, lay. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff take the lead roles and whilst some argue that the cuts to the script made by Norris left them little to play with, I think it was the playing which lacked something. This was an ordinary bloke (and his ordinary wife) who was told by some witches that he would be King. An ordinary bloke would have said “OK, that’s nice. Let’s see what happens.”

Neither Macbeth, nor – crucially – Lady Macbeth have that pent up psychopathic fervour which drives them in other productions. And so it all becomes slightly unbelievable. A bit soft round the edge where it should be hard as steel.

So. It’s not great. But it’s not as bad as some critics say. Definitely give it a go if you get the chance. It won’t stand comparison with the great productions – Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth on stage, Michael Fassbender in the recent film – but, to borrow a phrase from the Good Doctors’ film reviews, it’s not entirely without merit. And if you like seaweed crossed with shredded bin-liner you’re in for a treat.

★★★☆☆

Fix the problem, not the process

Today 40 MPs and Peers escorted their colleague Ruth Smeeth MP to give evidence at a disciplinary hearing of a member of the Labour Party, Marc Wadsworth, accused of antisemitic behaviour. A protest in support of Wadsworth had been arranged at the (not so secret) venue.

Whilst, no doubt, their support would be welcome at any time, how has it come to this?

As one of the MPs present, Wes Streeting, said, “I was proud to see so many Labour MPs and peers from across the party – including shadow ministers – accompanying Ruth this morning in a show of friendship and solidarity. But no victim of abuse should ever have to walk through a protest against them to give evidence to a hearing. It is an appalling state of affairs.” Particularly poignant following on the day after the much-heralded meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and members of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD).

If accounts are correct, Labour’s response to the meeting was to spend the time available talking about process rather than action. That was wholly wrong and a completely wasted opportunity, but no surprise.

When Seumas Milne, the Leader’s Spinner and now de facto General Secretary of the Labour Party, came to see me two years ago it was to ask advice about how the Labour Party might best deal with the allegations of antisemitism that were already beginning to dominate the news agenda.

I gave some advice about how to deal with antisemitism, but that wasn’t what was required. It was the symptoms he wanted treating, not the cause. And it’s still the symptoms, the bad publicity, that most concern him today. The only thing which concerns him.

And it’s so obvious that we seem only to care about symptoms that when I went to see comedian Bill Bailey at the weekend, his attack on Labour (balancing his attacks on May for Windrush and Cable for irrelevance) were entirely about this current ‘Whack-a-Mole’ approach to dealing with the issue. A racist pops up here, and when s/he is dealt with another pops up there. An endless cycle of cause and effect where the effect is actually contributing to the next effect, and no-one is tackling the cause.

But why does this matter? Surely the Labour Party has to have the right process for dealing with complaints and investigations. Of course. And any process can benefit from being improved.

But any process, whatever ‘improvements’ are made, will falter at the hurdle of getting approval from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition (LOTO) for any action being proposed. It took three conference calls with Seumas Milne and others over several tortuous hours (and John Mann chasing Ken around with a TV crew) to get agreement that Ken Livingstone should be suspended for the allegations of antisemitism made against him.

More recently LOTO are trying to row back on the adoption of the definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which was adopted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) in December 2016. Although it was adopted partly to avoid being outflanked by the Tories, this internationally accepted definition was a welcome addition to the fight against antisemitism in the Labour Party. Together with the examples of antisemitic actions and language, which were also accepted, this provided a clear (or, at least, clearer) framework within which those charged with investigating allegations could operate.

But I now am told by members of the NEC that LOTO are recently trying to say that the examples of antisemitic behaviour weren’t accepted and should not be used. Yes they were, and yes they should. For those who are interested in such things, I’ve include the definition and the examples at the end of this piece. Maybe LOTO would like to say which of the examples concern them and why. It would be even more instructive if they were to say which of their friends are likely to fall foul of these examples.

There has been much said in recent days, not least at Jeremy Corbyn’s meeting with the JLC and BoD, about process. Jennie Formby has been told dealing with allegations of antisemitism is her top priority. But all the words emanating from LOTO and from the General Secretary’s Office are about process and implied criticism of the staff for not dealing with issues quickly enough – it is always the staff.

But the truth of the matter lies in quite another direction.

When the cancer of Militant Tendency was removed from the Labour Party, months and months were not wasted on process. A battalion of lawyers was not put in place. No General Counsel had to be hired before action could be taken.

Instead, and to borrow an unfortunate phrase used highly inappropriately elsewhere, a hostile environment was created, making it clear if you were a member of Militant you were not welcome as a member of the Labour Party. Speech after speech by the Leadership of the Party, a handful of high profile expulsions, including those of two MPs, and action by local constituency parties supported by the NEC gave no hiding place. Members of Militant Tendency left the Labour Party to gather under the banner of Militant Labour to begin the long march to obscurity.

Of course, antisemites are not a political party. They are not an entryist organisation which can be dealt with en-bloc. But they should face the same hostile environment.

Instead Labour has become a safe haven for the weird and the whacky, and, worse, for the racist bullies who believe it is OK to level the vilest abuse at those who seek to speak out against this current cancer at the heart of Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn believes that he doesn’t have the power to tackle these issues. He believes what Seumas tells him, that he can only ask the General Secretary to look at improving the process – tweak the rules, hire a lawyer, blame the staff.

But I have news for you Jeremy. You are Leader of the Labour Party. What you say will, 99 times out of a hundred, go.

You may not be able to stop Chris Williamson MP physically sharing a platform with a member of the Labour Party suspended for antisemitism, but you can make it abundantly clear that you expect, and would support, charges of bringing the Party into disrepute to follow.

You may not be able to stop people using the hashtag #JC4PM alongside their antisemitic vitriol. But you could have a member of staff responding to each and every one saying it is not acceptable and nor is their membership of the Labour Party. And cheaper than a barrel of lawyers.

If you expect LOTO to have an eye on which disciplinary cases should be treated more or less seriously – and currently you do – then you should also be prepared to speak up and make it clear that you expect individuals who express the views that Ken Livingstone did to be expelled from the Labour Party. The National Constitutional Committee which hears these cases is not blind justice. They are aware of ‘mood music’ emanating from the Leader’s Office. That is why Ken wasn’t expelled at the first attempt.

And yes, have a look at the process too. It should be possible within a fair process to get people like Livingstone out of the Party without months and months of case preparation. If people want their day in court, then let it be at the Strand rather than Victoria Street.

Jeremy, there are still a few outliers, like Williamson, who believe antisemitism is a plot (probably dreamed up by the Jews) to attack your Leadership. You at least recognise that it is not. It is a real issue. It has real consequences. And it must be really dealt with. Not the symptoms. Not by Whack-a-Mole. But by tackling the causes by straight talking and honest-to-goodness action. Today.

And just to make it clear action today is possible here is a draft to-do list:
1. Make it clear that elected representatives must not share platforms with people facing charges of antisemitism.
2. Challenge individuals using social media to conflate JC4PM with antisemitism or gaslighting about smears.
3. Make it clear what action you, as Leader, expect to follow when named individuals engage in antisemitic behaviour.
4. Be quicker to welcome Marc Wadsworth’s expulsion from the Labour Party (or condemn the fact he has not been) than you were to recognise the retirement of Arsène Wenger.

If we seek the trust of the people to govern, they are more likely to trust our actions than merely oft-repeated words.

 

FOR INFORMATION

IHRA Working definition of antisemitism

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Examples of antisemitism under this definition

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
• Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
• Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

The Best Man

Gore Vidal’s play of the battle between corrupt and honest (or less corrupt) politics of the 1960s still resonates today as it has done under different guises throughout the ages.

Richard III, the West Wing, House of Cards, the Thick of It. They all carry similar themes, but the Best Man takes us to the heart of how candidates are selected to become the representative of a party in the US presidential elections. Something we seem to ask a lot this side of the pond. Who…? How on earth…?

This production at the Playhouse Theatre has assembled a stellar cast to play the fictional characters. That fiction means you won’t necessarily know the result before it arrives and you will have no plot spoilers from me today.

The one big advantage of placing your story in the convention hotel where the party is meeting to choose its candidate is that all the rooms look the same. So you only need to change the people inhabiting it to change the scene, and that was done with swift expertise throughout. That gave this witty production a pace which one imagines would be similar to that experienced at a real world event – even if the truth is a little slower.

Martin Shaw appears to be Vidal’s favoured candidate – as was JFK until he fell out of love with him – but he is the flawed Secretary of State, Bill Russel. Certainly a womaniser. Possibly with mental health problems. His opponent, Senator Joe Cantwell is played by Jeff Fahey (an American actor with an American accent just about as believable as Shaw’s) as a brash, do anything, shaft anyone to win sort of guy – who could that be? Certainly this is played as good against evil. We are more used to bad against slightly less bad.

The battle for votes is adjudicated by the dying former President played by Jack Shepherd who fails to declare his support for one or the other before expiring without influencing the vote one way or the other. When they came to take their curtain call Shepherd still looked at death’s door, so he’d obviously put a lot into his performance.

As in many political tales of this era, the real business is done by the men, the candidates and their campaign managers. The women – the wives, the representative of the women’s caucus – are the bright lights which illuminate the murkier politics. But they do reflect their male counterparts – slightly good, slightly bad, slightly vacillating. Maureen Lipman in particular has an archly comic presence as the voice of women’s suffrage, Sue-Ellen Gamadge. She could easily have morphed into Lady Bracknell at any time.

Running at two hours 30minutes, for some reason it had a start time of 7.45pm so it was touch and go for the train home at a reasonable hour. Nevertheless, a tight production of a classic play. At times tense, always smart and witty, occasionally laugh out loud. And with a neat twist (no plot spoilers). Well worth seeing.

☆☆☆☆

The Plough and the Stars

The Plough and the Stars

The last time we saw Seán O’Casey’s great play about the events surrounding the Easter Rising of 1916, it was at the National Theatre (in London, rather than Ireland) and it was firmly set in the tenements of Dublin. The rising shaped the events. Shaped the people. The realism of the setting of the play gave it exact context.

This version at the Lyric Hammersmith is without doubt about the people, and their stories unwind on a backdrop that could certainly be Dublin in 1916. But it could also be Romania in 1989, or Mexico in 1994. Or a dystopian Los Angeles of 2049. The troubles here, as in all great plays, are the troubles of relationships rather than the troubles of the bomb and the bullet.

The play is bookended by songs. The Soldier’s Song is a poignant opening as Mollser, played by Julie Maguire, collapses in a bloody coughing fit which heralds the tuberculosis which will kill her later. She inhabits the stage throughout, neglected and ignored, save by a drunken Protestant neighbour who delights in singing Jerusalem and waving the Union Flag. The solider who arrives to escort her coffin for burial, plaintively sings Keep the Home Fires Burning to close the play.

The open, scaffolded set allows both the sense of any place, and the specific cheek by jowl place of the Irish tenements of 1916 and provides the backdrop for the over-arching themes against which these complex and simple relationships are played out -“Ireland is greater than a mother” and “Ireland is greater than a wife.”

The lives of the women of the play are the strongest themes. Nora Clitheroe’s descent into madness as she loses her husband Jack to the Irish Citizen Army, and then her unborn baby to the stress of battle almost mirrors that of Lady Macbeth. One trying to hold her husband to a normal family life, the other trying to promote him out of it. Nora reflects the ordinariness of family life in 1915, managing the household while uncle and cousin and neighbours talk the talk of revolution at home and in the pub. But when the second half starts in 1916 she is powerless to halt the words turning to actions as the bullets begin to fly.

No one here is a hero. Everyone is ordinary. The soldiers suppressing the rising are not imperialist bullies. Bessie, the drunken Protestant, is not the only one to question the rising, but the fact her son is fighting in the trenches of the first world war is a clear challenge to the priorities that confront these families. Apparently when the play was first performed in Ireland in the 1920s the audience rioted. It was all a bit too raw then.

O’Casey doesn’t rail against independence for Ireland, just the means of getting it, ending with overwhelming sadness and loss for those with little to lose. This play brings out all of that emotion and is well worth seeing, particularly if you have seen one of the more traditional period costume drama versions from recent times.

☆☆☆☆

Ross’s Gull - eventually

Ross’s Gull – eventually

The cafe at Ferry Bridge, on the causeway which joins Weymouth and Portland, is not to be missed.

Any time were in the area we will likely end up there at some point. Traditional breakfast to set us for a day’s birding. Afternoon tea to cheer us up after a disappointing day’s birding. A good range of food, and wildlife shop, window seats for non-stop birding. What’s not to like?

So when we saw that the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) – our reason for being in Weymouth rather than Southampton – had not been seen for the last couple of hours, we decided to go straight for a Sunday morning breakfast. Always popular, the cafe was three-quarters full, but we got a window seat next to some fellow birders who were just finishing off their refuelling stop. Unusually, the table service was a bit slower than normal so we hadn’t ordered when the next message came through – the gull was back at Radipole Reserve.

We ignored the slightly smug grin of those who had already eaten, and left without breakfast. Radipole is only 10 minutes away. Eight minutes later the next message tells us the gull has flown south out toward the bay. Back where we’ve just come from.

Experienced hands that we are, we decide there’s more chance of the Ross’s Gull making its way to another regular site at Lodmoor just a few minutes away, and we can at least have a pork-pie and bar of chocolate from the goodie-bag in the back of the car. We head to Lodmoor. No one else thinks this is the place to be looking. And what’s worse, there is no goodie-bag in the boot. Still on the kitchen table apparently. Still we have a mooch round Lodmoor, and then decide we really do need food.

Back to Radipole. Lots of birders. No bird.

But we did spy a cafe a few minutes walk away opposite the station, and we discover that this is another little gem. So at least we’ve added to our food stops, if not our bird list. Anyhow, back to Radipole. Still lots of birders and no bird. We can either wait in the hope the Ross’s Gull puts in an appearance. Or we can take a bit of a stroll and see what else the reserve has to offer.

Ross’s Gull - eventuallyLast time we were here it was full of dog-walkers and child-buggy pushers. Now the cold weather and the threat of rain keeps the paths free for a quiet stroll. And was it worth it? Oh yes. Three Water Rails (Rallus aquaticus) right out in the open. Not a sight you often see. I gave half a thought to nipping back to the where the gull wasn’t to encourage the other birders to get their legs moving and see some Rails. But they would be hard to drag away from their main target so we left them to it.

As the rain started to come down, and the parking ticket ran out we decided to cal it quits and head for home. And then the next message slides in. Fortuneswell, right of the yellow buoy, in Chesil Cove, tho distant.

Hmmm.

And we’re off. We get to the site. We find the guy who called it in. He points out the yellow buoy – just visible in the mist through our scopes – we start looking  for any gulls let alone the tiny bird we’re after and then ‘ping’. Next message. It’s back at Lodmoor.

It would appear our new found friend had misidentified the bird at the Chesil Cove. Shit happens. We all head back to Lodmoor. And now we are armed with the information from our misinformer about where the bird normally likes to roost.

Fortunately when we get to Lodmoor someone who has just seen the bird tells us where we should actually be looking and off we trot. And finally, after several hours of missed breakfast, missed birds, found breakfast, and found birds, there it is. The first Ross’s Gull we’ve seen in the UK and a splendid view it was too, although a little too far for any decent photographs.

And then, just moments later, it was gone. All the birds launched off the mud and barrelled upwards as a peregrine swooped low over the scrape.

Ross’s Gull - eventually