Theatre

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?

Don't dance with Israeli apartheid

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Cultural boycott of Israel

Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills refused to disinvite Israeli dance troupe Batsheva from this summer's festival. But he had to eat his words when Scotland's national poet, Liz Lochhead, joined Iain Banks and AL Kennedy in defending the cultural boycott of Israel because of its violations of Palestinian human rights.

A top playwright

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Caryl Churchill is one of the most important playwrights of modern times, writes Jennifer Wilkinson

From women's oppression to stock market greed, Caryl Churchill frequently uses theatre to intervene in the political arena. Her play Seven Jewish Children was a powerful response to Israel's massacre of people in Gaza in early 2009. A self-described "political event" in ten minutes, she punctures the Zionist narrative of self defence and dramatically heightens the viewer's moral outrage at the continuing oppression of the Palestinians. Churchill has made it clear that the play may be performed by anyone for free, as long as a collection is taken for the people of Gaza.

Pins and Needles

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The Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn, London, until 11 December

Every catastrophic global financial crisis has its bright side. In London glaziers are doing overtime and a smash-hit Broadway cabaret, written during the last global bout of austerity, finally gets a British premiere in a small theatre in north London. In 1937 the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) asked Harold Rome to write a cheap show that could be performed by the workers on two pianos.

A time for tragedy

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Phèdre, National Theatre, London, until 27 August

"For a writer to experience life tragically...there must be in his society a poignant, underlying sense of the times being morally and practically out of joint" (Victor Kiernan).

If that is so, then it is a perfect moment for the National Theatre to present the tragedy of Phaedra (Phèdre), with Helen Mirren in the title role.

Augusto Boal has left the stage

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Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes pay homage to the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal, who died last month

It would be wrong to describe Augusto Boal as a theatre director, a dramatist, a producer or an actor, though he was all of those things. Returning to his native Brazil in 1955 from the US with a degree in theatre arts, he was hired to work for the famous Arena Theatre, which challenged the social realism of the theatre of the time with the ideas of Bertolt Brecht.

Theatre and politics

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Paul O'Brien looks at the recent controversies over England People Very Nice and Seven Jewish Children

Twenty years on from the death threats to Salman Rushdie and the public burning of his book The Satanic Verses, there has been a succession of literary and cultural events that highlight the often fraught relationship between culture and politics. The recent furore over Richard Bean's play England People Very Nice and Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children is a case in point.

Harold Pinter: 1930-2008

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Harold Pinter was the greatest writer of dramatic English we had. He wrote mouth-filling meals for actors, where what you want is who you are, and what you say to get it is provoked by what was said to you only a second earlier. I got to say his words on stage, screen and radio, and I count myself lucky.

His first full-length play, The Birthday Party, contains what Pinter came to think was the most important line he ever wrote: "Stan, don't let them tell you what to do." At 18 he had become a conscientious objector - a decision which marked him as a non-conformist for life. But Pinter's work isn't just dry, agit-prop drama of resistance.

Blair in the dock

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Theatre director Nicolas Kent and Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor are well known for their powerful plays based on tribunal hearings. They talked to Mark Brown about their new drama, Called to Account, which puts Tony Blair in the dock over Iraq

An interesting process has taken place since the movement against the Iraq war exploded onto the British political scene. A legal term, which ordinarily would be a topic of discussion for only a small minority of the population, has become part of mainstream public consciousness - possibly millions of people in Britain believe that their own prime minister is a "war criminal".

Plays for Today

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Playwright Henrik Ibsen was more than a pioneer of modern theatre: he carried a torch for all those who fight for women's liberation.

I was once told by one of my school teachers that he loved Shakespeare's King Lear because "everything is in there". By which he meant murder, adultery, pride, jealousy... you get the idea. I feel much the same about Henrik Ibsen. The Norwegian playwright, who died 100 years ago, wrote a body of plays which can rightly claim to have heralded modern theatre. They continue to have a profound social impact.

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