Theatre

Telling political stories

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In 1977 Jatinder Verma got together with some like-minded friends in south London and founded Tara Arts — the first British Asian theatre company. It was a political act, fuelled by resistance against racism, and it catalysed an Asian theatre movement in this country, with many of Tara’s early associates going on to found their own companies. This movement linked up with other radical theatre makers, including those coming out of the struggle of African-Caribbean youth, such as the Black Theatre Co-operative, which also emerged in the late 1970s. Four decades later Tara Arts is still going strong, with Jatinder Verma at its helm. Continuing Socialist Review’s series on political theatre, Hassan Mahamdallie talked to the company’s founder about the political roots of Tara Arts, what it was trying to achieve and its continued relevance today.

Act 1: Arrival

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.

The Hook: a real contender

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This is in so many ways a remarkable and important play. It is after all a world premiere of a major play, staged to mark the centenary of Arthur Miller, one of the great playwrights of the last century. It is also Miller’s most directly political script from his early career.

Miller and Elia Kazan (two of the tyros of left wing American theatre) became interested in the matted politics of New York dockland in the late 1940s.

Building a theatre of action

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The Workers' Theatre Movement developed out of the confident working class movement of mid-1920s Britain, but was later buried by the changing priorities of the Communist Party. Its radical legacy of performance by, for and about workers is uncovered by David Gilchrist.

The great upheavals of the First World War and the Russian Revolution led to a widespread questioning in British society; this applied no less to theatre. Following the example of Russia, which experienced a huge flowering of art following the revolution of 1917, workers in Britain saw the establishment, at first locally, and then on a national basis, of the Workers’ Theatre Movement (WTM).

Live debates played out on stage

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Made in Dagenham

Julie Sherry reviews the new musical telling of the Ford women's struggle

Made in Dagenham the film is excellent, but the collective experience of the musical — watching the performers live and alongside thousands of others — blurs the separation between a powerful but historical story and the live debates we are having in austerity Britain today.

This was amplified watching the show in a week in which some 700,000 workers, mainly women, had struck and 100,000 had marched over low pay. Sitting in the theatre you couldn’t help but wonder how many public sector workers were in the audience and how they might be feeling.

East is East

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East is East is a priceless modern classic about the tensions among conflicting cultures in multiracial Britain.

Pakistani chip-shop owner George Khan (played by the author Ayub Khan Din) wants his children to remember and abide by their Pakistani roots.

He makes every effort to bring them up in a strict Muslim household, despite the fact that his family were born and raised in 1970s Salford.

Scotland: Independent artists

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Yestival, Scotland

One of the most exciting aspects of the Scottish referendum campaign has been the way in which it has reinvigorated political debate and civic life across the country. The flourishing of activism has been predominantly on the pro-independence, Yes, side of the argument and noticeably left wing. It has also fed into all manner of other campaigns, from the movement against the Bedroom Tax to the outpouring of rage against Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

Mr Burns

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Mr Burns

Almeida Theatre, London, until 26 July

If you were given the task of preserving culture for future generations what would you save? Gilbert and Sullivan or Eminem? Shakespeare or the Simpsons? How much would you remember? And would you remember it right?

Mr Burns is described as a post-electric play. It opens with the audience plunged into darkness and a small group of people on stage around a camp fire. We know something has happened but are never really clear what. Few people are left alive. Nuclear power stations have gone up in flames and there is no power.

Christopher Marlowe

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This month marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Gareth Jenkins celebrates his life and work.

On 30 May 1593 Christopher Marlowe went with two acquaintances to a tavern in south east London. After a long afternoon drinking a fight broke out over who should pay the bill, at the end of which Marlow lay dead of a knife wound.

Thus ended the short life of a poet and dramatist, born in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare. His stage hits had wowed London in the late 1580s, around the time of the Spanish Armada. But writing was only one of his careers.

Harold Pinter: the personal and political

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The recently renamed Harold Pinter Theatre opened its doors last month with a production of Old Times. Jack Farmer looks at the way political themes are revealed in the most personal of situations in Harold Pinter's plays

Fade up. A man and woman sit in a living room, smoking. Evening. The woman turns her head. "Dark", she says. "Fat or thin?" he asks. Who are they talking about? A second woman with dark hair stands half in shadow by a large window. Is she really in the room with them, or is she just a figment of memory?

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