Posts Tagged ‘Tony Blair’

I thought Islington only had one claim to fame in modern history – the meeting between Blair and Brown in Granita Restaurant which laid the foundations for the next sixteen years of British politics. It turns out another meeting twenty-two years later, over dinner in Boris Johnson’s home, may have sealed the fate of the recent referendum. Ironic that it took place in what is probably a remain stronghold.

The first half of Jonathan Maitland’s play seeks to re-enact the dinner where the Johnson’s were joined by the Gove’s and Evgeny Lebedev. His date Liz Hurley didn’t show up, apparently. Boris is yet to decide on Leave or Remain, a complex decision concerning his career more than the fate of his party and country. Everyone else is egging him on to go for Leave, though he is visited by three ghosts, two of which – Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill – favour Leave and Tony Blair Remain. Lebedev is too busy name-dropping, including a cheeky moment where the theory that he intervenes in the Evening Standard theatre awards gets promulgated, to have much of an opinion about such a trivial issue. We get a couple of interviews with Huw Edwards bookending this act. The second act leaps forward to 2029. Boris has a new wife and a knighthood, Gove has a new career and Lebedev is still dropping names with wild abandon. We continue to be visited by the three ghosts. To say much more would spoil it, so I won’t.

The first half pulls more punches, the satire is on the light side, but it’s often very funny, it’s superbly performed and it pandered to my prejudices (though not vicious enough for me!) and there’s a coup d’theatre from designer Louie Whitemore that was particularly dramatic from the front row. Will Barton is outstanding as Boris, relying on speech, mannerisms, hair and disheveled clothing rather than physical similarity. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart captures Gove’s obsequious oiliness brilliantly. Steve Nallon almost steals the show as Maggie, but he’s been playing her since Spitting Image, so he’s had a longer rehearsal period. Tim Wallers gets to switch between a newly beardless Lebedev, Blair and Huw Edwards. Annabel Weir is very good as Gove’s wife Sarah Vine and Churchill (!) and Devina Moon plays both Mrs Johnson’s very well indeed.

It’s light entertainment rather than biting satire, but in the 34th month of the shit-storm it proved to be a therapeutic fun night out. If you go in liking the two main protagonists, it probably won’t change anything. If, like me, you think they are self-serving careerists with no interest in their country, or even their party, who history will look back on as two of the biggest post-war political assholes, you’ll walk out feeling just the same!

Read Full Post »

OK, so nine short plays on the history of women in politics (and the ‘testimonies’ of five living politicians) isn’t everyone’s idea of fun on a hot, sunny Saturday in June! Well, helped by the Tricycle’s aircon, it proved to be a theatrical feast I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The Tricycle is the only theatre with the bravery and balls (inappropriate terminology, I know) to stage this. It’s only a year since they did a thrilling whole day history of Afghanistan in the same way and I have to confess I never thought they’d match it – but they have.

The nine plays take us from Elizabeth I to all-women selection lists and the writing, by nine different women playwrights, was even more consistent than The Great Game, with an intriguing and unpredictable selection of subjects and innovative approaches to them. There really wasn’t a dud amongst them, though Sue Townsend’s albeit funny contribution steered furthest from the theme in the cause of her cartoon-like relentless and tired snipes at the New Labour project.

Marie Jones and Rebecca Lenkiewicz gave us fascinating new historical perspectives on the suffragettes and Liz I respectively. Moira Buffini’s take on Thatch & Liz II was clever and funny yet insightful. Lucy Kirkwood reminded us how we’ve virtually eliminated Greenham Common from history. Joy Wilkinson shows us that little has changed between the 1994 and 2010 Labour leadership contests. Zinnie Harris viciously but accurately shows us many men’s attitudes to all-women selection lists. Sam Holcroft stages a very intelligent debate about pornography through a conversation between a successful pornographer and a PM let down by her husband. Bola Agbaje is bang up-to-date with her study of the power of sex. Add to that verbatim contributions from Shirley Williams, Edwina Currie, Oona King,  Jacqui Smith & Anne Widdicombe, and a late addition (?) from Nick Clegg which proves to be the most chilling of all! Well if that doesn’t live up to my ‘theatrical feast’ epithet, I don’t know what does!  

Indira Rubasingham, assisted by Amy Hodge, has given each play a fresh directorial perspective with Handbagged, Bloody Wimmin and Acting Leader getting particularly inventive staging. She’s assembled an excellent ensemble of twelve actors who play up to six roles each, except Lara Rossi who gets to play Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Clare Short and Margaret Beckett’s husband in the same play – a tremendous debut from someone still at LAMDA! It was particularly good to see Kika Markham, Tom Mannion and Stella Gonet again.

If you saw The Great Game, you shouldn’t miss this different but equally exhilarating experience. If you didn’t, suspend disbelief and go see this and you’ll be back for The Great Game when it’s revival follows it. Seeing them all together, it’s an intelligent, relevant and thought-provoking experience – and great entertainment too.  

Yet again, The Tricycle leads the way.

Read Full Post »

Another month, another FYR…..

You’re probably thinking I’ve lost my marbles; I can almost hear the cries ‘Kosovo?! Is this a holiday?’ Well, travel for me is about learning and experiences and it certainly qualifies on that count – a very different experience altogether than Macedonia last month, more recent history than ancient history, but fascinating nonetheless.

The distrust and ethnic hatred which Milosevic fuelled (or maybe re-ignited) when Yugoslavia lost Tito will take decades (if ever) to heal and here you witness it much more than any of the other FYR’s. There is currently a sort of peace with the UN’s KFOR ever present. It’s an excellent example of the good the international community can do when it sets its mind to it. We encountered Swedish, Italian, Austrian, German, Portuguese, Romanian and Swiss soldiers and, as if to illustrate the different directions these FYR’s have taken, there were Slovenian troops keeping the peace on behalf of the UN.

It’s a small country of 2m people, 90% of which are ethnic Albanians, and we saw a lot of it in our 5-day circular tour of this poppy strewn green land surrounded by snow-capped mountains. We started in the capital Pristina, a dump if ever I saw one. We stayed in the Grand Hotel, which wasn’t – once the pride of Yugoslavia with 350 rooms, now with 20 or so guests and a lot of floors disused unfurnished wastelands.

A combination of 1999 war damage, pre-war communist tastelessness and post-1999 out-of-control development, Pristina has few redeeming features. There’s little left of the old Ottoman town, except a mosque still being rebuilt, baths in ruins and a lovely ethnographic museum housed in some charming old buildings. In the national museum, they defiantly display the one item (of 1247) ‘loaned’ to Serbia just before the 1999 war that has been returned (the remainder are pawns in a post-war political game), but they’ve made a good job of displaying what’s left.

Out of town, we visited the Gracanica Monastery where the Swedish UN soldiers guarding it were very helpful but had little idea what they were guarding. The Byzantine church, an important place for Serbian Orthodox Christians, is now considered a potential target of Kosovan Albanians in this troubled land. At the memorial to a 14th century battle, which the then Serbian empire lost, they have the same concerns, but here the UN have handed over security to the Kosovan police. Here we met a charming Austrian UN officer who was orientating his men to their new posting. Nearby, the tomb of the Ottoman leader killed in the battle has been cared for by the same family for generations, even though the body is no longer there!

We moved on, via the extensive caves at Gadime and the Sharrit mountains, to our second overnight stop in Prizren, a lovely riverside town with a fortress towering over it, which was once the centre of the late 19th League of Prizren, a defensive organisation seeking to prevent the occupation of the ethnic Albanian territories from the Adriatic coat to the land of the Serbs.  There aren’t many countries where you’re thanked for your country’s contribution, but we were moved when the custodian here did so. The Ottoman baths were still being renovated but had more atmosphere as a result and there was a lovely stone bridge leading to the old town.

From here we visited the wine country of Rahovec and the newly privatised Stone Castle Winery where the scale was extraordinary and the quality surprisingly good, though they are aiming for popular merlots, cab savs and chardonnays. In contrast, in a small Serbian village enclave, we tasted more distinctive wines made from indigenous Balkan specific grape varieties. This was where I began to understand that there are many personal tragedies on both sides resulting from the political situation. The wine maker was a Serb doctor who didn’t feel able to continue to practice here in newly independent Albanian Kosovo and had to export all of his wine to Belgrade. At another village en route to our next destination, the fields were full of Kosovan Albanian women working – none of their men folk had survived the war.

Our next overnighter was Gjakova, another nice place though this time the old town was largely rebuilt, having been razed to the ground in 1999. Our hotel was a beacon for the new Kosovo, rebuilt externally with historical accuracy but with a new designer chic interior. Gjakova also had a lovely ethnographic museum in an old Ottoman house where we were being photographed, we think for the local paper (they don’t see many tourists in these parts). In the old town, we visited the Bektashi community, one of a number of Islamic sects; these are liberal Shiites who consider women as equal, drink alcohol and display images of the prophet. I was wondering why no-one had issued a fatwa against them! Double standards indeed.

From here we headed to what turned out to be the high spot of the trip – the Decani monastery – a 14th century combination of a stunning Romanesque church decorated inside with wonderful Byzantine frescos, a hugely important site to the Serbian Orthodox Church (they call it ‘our Jerusalem’ to drive the point home). The monk whom we met was charming, dignified and funny as he told us they had been attacked 28 times, the last just 2 years ago. Yet, just before we arrived he received a Kosovan Muslim couple with a sick child to pray to St Stephen. We saw them leave, the child receiving sweets and cakes from the Italian UN soldier on guard (in shades with designer stubble!). This was deeply moving but somehow hopeful.

Before our final overnight stop we took in a village that had a couple of intact Ottoman Kulla houses, the spectacular Rugova river gorge and the characterless city of Peja whose only claim to fame is that they have re-named a major thoroughfare Tony Blair Street in gratitude for his contribution to the NATO and UN decisions that led to their liberation (Bill Clinton got a street AND a gold (coloured) statue in Pristina!)

At our final stop, Istog, we stayed in a quirky hotel at a fish farm. I loved my little bungalow hanging over the lake and the dinner of fish cooked six ways was terrific. From here we visited the village where the family of the KLA leader were massacred. The memorial they are building will be bigger than the village. Four coachfulls of schoolchildren arrived and sang us a Kosovan hymn. We were introduced to the KLA leader’s son who was in Germany at the time and is now head of the family. When we were at the graves, one of he Kosovan soldiers guarding them photographed us; surreal!

Our final stop was Mitrovica, where the city has been divided on ethnic lines and it remains a flashpoint. You can now cross the bridge freely, but few people do.  When I went too far, to see the Serb war memorial, our Kosovan Albanian host called me back. The UN troops have rather charmingly built a walkway so that young people can cross half way then step down to the riverside to meet. A UN official approached us to ask what on earth we were doing there – she’d never seen a tourist in Mitrovica whilst she’d been there.

This was an extraordinarily fascinating trip. As this was my sixth visit to the former Yugoslavia in recent years, I thought I fully understood its history, but this trip deepened my understanding and highlighted the complexity of the situation. It was often deeply moving but ultimately hopeful. In particular, I will never forget the visit to Decani as long as I live. The food was excellent and the wine very drinkable. The small group of 15 proved good company, so as well as learning we did have fun! The next few trips will be Northern Europe, so that’s the last FYR for now.

Here are some photos……..

You are invited to view Gareth’s photo album: Kosovo 2010
Kosovo 2010
Jun 9, 2010
by Gareth
To share your photos or receive notification when your friends share photos, get your own free Picasa Web Albums account.

Read Full Post »