David Gilchrist

Alone in Berlin

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Otto Quangel is the foreman in a coffin factory. A mechanic, he is a small cog in the apparatus of death that was the Third Reich. Quangel and his wife Anna get notification of the loss of their son at the front. Their feelings of disengagement with the regime harden into opposition. They embark on a low-level campaign of resistance, writing postcards with anti-Nazi messages and leaving them secretly in the stairwells of Berlin businesses and apartments.

Woyzeck

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Georg Büchner is somewhat of an enigma. Dying at age 23, in exile in Zürich for writing a revolutionary pamphlet, he created only three major works. Unfinished, the play Woyzeck was not performed until 1913, one hundred years after his birth. Yet it is said that had he lived he would have been the equal of the great heroes of German literature, Goethe and Schiller. Although he was influenced by the revolutionary ideas of Babeuf and Saint-Simon, he was so important a figure in German cultural identity that the Nazis did not burn his works.

Buried Child

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Sam Shepard’s important 1978 Pulitzer Prize winning play is often said to belong to the American gothic tradition. Hidden horror is flagged in the title but there are deeper myths at work here.

Ostensibly this is a play about a family, its failings and its possible renewal. The story is of Dodge, the patriarch here played by Ed Harris, and the matriarchal Halie, his abusive wife, played by Amy Madigan.

Harris brings a powerful American naturalness to the part and plays the comedy of old age brilliantly in this initially realist production.

I was Entertained

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Much as I enjoyed Bob Light’s invective in his review of The Entertainer (September SR), I have to disagree with him.

Osborne was part of the post-war generation that had had hopes in the 1945 Labour government but had become disillusioned. The Entertainer used realism but introduced a new element. Osborne’s music hall motif is a metaphor for Britain but also for popular culture, once vigorous and unifying but now grubby and taken over by those only interested in making money.

The Threepenny Opera

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“Food first, morals later” declares Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum in the shattering second act finale of Bertolt Brecht’s musical play, a satire of bourgeois ethics. Brecht shows us the would-be bosses grubbing and grasping for every penny in order to rise out of the poverty of the mass.

The story, told with the help of a swirling polyphonic score from Kurt Weill, was the first great example of a new genre, musical theatre. Written in 1928, it is based on The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay’s 1728 parody of Handel’s operas, and it was Brecht and Weill’s first big success.

Punk: 1976-1978

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“We are anti-racist and anti-fascist” claimed the Clash in their first interview with the then important music paper the NME. They explained that they had been at the riot at the Notting Hill Carnival that year (1976) and thought that “young white kids” needed to develop a culture of their own in order to fight back as black people were doing.

A change in society and in our art

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In a follow-up to his piece on the radical theatre of the 1930s, David Gilchrist examines how the events of 1968 kick-started a new theatre of the people. The 7:84 company took popular forms of culture - from TV to the ceilidh - and utilised them to reach new, working class audiences.

John McGrath and Elizabeth McLennan set up the socialist 7:84 Theatre Company in 1971. McLennan was a successful actor both in the theatre and on television. McGrath had had a successful career, scriptwriting the early episodes of a ground breaking TV cop show, Z Cars. They were both disillusioned with commercial theatre and excited by the political events of 1968.

A gift of sound and vision

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Salvador Dali is alleged to have proclaimed, when asked if he took drugs, “I am drugs!” And so, for some of us in the mid-1970s, David Bowie was music.

Bowie was a glamorous break with a music scene that had become dominated by the ponderous dinosaurs of rock music. The uniform of long hair and double denim had become stale and the music had become overblown, no longer reflecting the life of kids on the street.

Rock Against Racism

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All you punks and all you teds
National Front and natty dreads
Mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads
Keep on fighting till you’re dead.

This verse from The Specials song “Do the Dog” expresses both the diversity and the divisions of late 1970s musical youth culture.

The book and exhibition of photographer Syd Shelton’s work, Rock Against Racism, are a brilliant visual representation and record of this culture.

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