Sabby Sagall

Subject to Script Approval

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Review of 'Embedded' by Tim Robbins, Riverside Studios and 'Stuff Happens' by David Hare, National Theatre

As part of an encouraging renaissance of radical theatre, Embedded and Stuff Happens have attested to the continuing centrality of the war on Iraq in political debate. Though different in style and content, both are written from a clear anti-war perspective.

Palestine: Beyond a Boundary

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Up to 7,600 Palestinian political prisoners in four different prisons have begun an open-ended hunger strike in protest against the appalling conditions of their detention.

Among their demands are: an end to collective punishments such as indiscriminate beatings; improved visiting rights and the easing of restrictions on communication with lawyers; and the improvement of health facilities. The Israeli authorities have begun lighting barbecues outside the prison walls to torment the prisoners. 'The prisoners can... starve to death...' said Hanegbi, Israeli public security minister, rejecting their demands.

Privatisation: More Loot for the Fat Controllers

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New Labour's policy of Public-Private Partnership or Private Finance Initiative (PPP/PFI) is second only to the war on Iraq as a source of anger and disillusion among its traditional supporters.

It means part-privatisation of key areas of the welfare state, falling just short of the outright privatisation epitomised by the railways. A central plank in the neoliberal agenda, PPP/PFI was launched by John Major in 1992 as an alternative to the state-based method of replacing or improving schools, hospitals and rail tracks, and of running services in health, education and transport, through taxation or government borrowing. Now Tony Blair and Michael Howard are haggling over the detail, but not the principle, of PPP/PFI.

Obscure Ringtones

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Review of 'The Valkyrie' by Richard Wagner, English National Opera at the Coliseum

The Valkyrie is the second in Wagner's cycle of four independent operas known as The Ring of the Niebelung, a complex story derived from German medieval mythology with a motley cast of characters - gods, humans, giants, dwarfs and Rhinemaidens.

Love Can't Buy You Money

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Review of 'Rhinegold' by Richard Wagner, English National Opera at the Coliseum

Wagner's music represents the high point of German Romanticism and gives powerful expression to German nationalism. In his early life, he was involved with a liberal nationalist organisation called Young Germany, and in 1848 he welcomed the outbreak of revolution throughout Europe with a poem celebrating the uprising in Vienna. When the revolutionary wave reached Dresden in May 1849 he became editor of a republican weekly and narrowly escaped arrest.

Palestine: A Return to Mass Struggle?

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The assassination of Sheikh Yassin highlights once again the ruthlessness of the Israeli state.

The official reason for the murder was retaliation for the suicide bombs that killed ten Israelis in Ashdod. But how to explain the timing? Media pundits have suggested it was a sop to appease the right wing in Sharon's cabinet following his proposed withdrawal from parts of the Gaza Strip, or else a means of denying Hamas any sense of victory from a unilateral Israeli pullout. But it is incongruous to argue there are elements more right wing than Sharon.

Customer-Oriented Express

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Review of 'The Permanent Way' by David Hare, National Theatre, London, then touring

David Hare's latest work is not a play in any conventional sense, rather a dramatised documentary that subjects privatisation of the railways to a rigorous and devastating critique. We are presented with a mosaic of individual testimonies from 25 characters - both those responsible for running the privatised network and those at the sharp end of its failures.

Iraq: The Resistance Deepens

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Contrary to Bush and Blair's familiar response to any attack on US or British forces as the work of 'Saddam loyalists' or 'foreign terrorists', it is clear that the resistance in Iraq has gained momentum, and that the Iraqi people have increasingly come to see themselves as subject to a colonial occupation.

At the end of September the US administrator, Paul Bremer, announced that the US-appointed governing council was planning sweeping reforms to enable foreign companies to take over Iraqi assets without prior approval. This move provided for 100 percent foreign ownership in all sectors except (for now) oil. As Kamil Mahdi wrote in the Guardian on 26 November, Iraqis were united in opposition to this law, since it confirmed their colonial status. Moreover, the funds provided for reconstruction will largely benefit US firms.

Goodbye Grey Sky?

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Review of 'Happy Days' by Samuel Beckett, Arts Theatre, London

Samuel Beckett (1906-89) was born in Dublin into an Irish Protestant family but lived most of his life in France. He was arguably the supreme modernist writer of the second half of the 20th century. Modernism in literature and the theatre is in part characterised by the description of a world which no longer makes sense, in which the old certainties are dead - for example, belief in god or the inevitability of historical progress. In Endgame, three characters are praying to god, then give up in despair, one of them crying out, 'The bastard! He doesn't even exist.'

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