Saturday, 27 June 2009

Peer Gynt: National Theatre of Scotland

 A rare trip to the Theatre last night - the Royal no less to see the NTS' excellent adaptation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt.

This is quite a complex piece of work - Ibsen wrote it in verse as a saga and so didnt envisage how it would be staged.  In fact it was not put on in a theatre in Norway until 10 years after it was published.  It was then that the fellow Norwegian composer Grieg added his music - the  famous Hall of the Mountain King - well known to Manic miner Fans! or those Slater Hogg and Howison adverts in the 80s.

It's no surprise why some have said it is "unperformable". It involves  a long trippy journey about a outsider's life  - bit of a pisshead and womaniser  - via trolls,  a group of monkeys, bad wedding parties, the desert, an asylum and that just scrapes the surface.

It is also pretty long but you wouldnt notice it from this production which has an amazing energy.  This is personified by the two guys (Keith Fleming and Gerry Mulgrew) who play the young and old Peer who bounce around the full time dragging the whole thing with them.  Keith Fleming reminded me a bit of Rik Mayall in Bottom which I would say is a good thing! Helped by excellent music   - which eschews the classical  to something much more modern and folky - including a well placed cameo for the Pet Shop Boys "Go West".  The support is also uniformly excellent  they are more or less literally support as the play is pretty much focussed on Peer Gynt - the other characters are never fleshed out in the text.

The work also focuses on the nature of self - Who is Peer Gynt? what makes a man different from a troll(!) and  the divorcing of celebrity self from reality.  Also the nature of man - is he always dragged down by his baser side - shown here in two bacchanalian scenes at a small town wedding (reminded me of a few I had been at) and in the troll( King Bastard)'s  lair.  

One element which was very prevalent in the translation I read which is more or less taken out completely is regarding Norway which at the time of writing was part of a union with Sweden as the weaker partner.  One reading of Ibsen's work is that Peer keeps getting dragged down because of the folk tales he's obsessed with (the trolls in particular) and the small town mentality of his village - which could be seen as Norway as a whole.  So it was a critique of Norwegian society - Ibsen wrote it when abroad in Italy.  Greig and Ibsen were both involved in maintaining a separate Norwegian culture.  There's a pretty complicated scene where 4 people symbolise Sweden, Germany, France and the USA - that's gone replaced with a brilliant sort of    chat show format!

I  thought that there could have been interesting parallels with Scotland - part of union, sentimental aspects to  culture but there weren't  really any drawn.  It would have been difficult to integrate that in though as there was so much else going on. 

You can see there's reference to topical things for Ibsen at the time - Darwin's theories, slavery and obliquely the American Civil War. I guess the celebrity culture/mythologising aspect which actually is quite implicit in the piece written in the 1860s is a message for our times.

So really loved it - energetic, funny, loud, fast moving and a bit bonkers.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

And the results from the Helsinki jury...

So it's a week since the results from the Euros are in. My delay in this response is not because we had a landslide and I had to pack my bag for Strasbourg but rather I had to get back to my day job and finish the marking of the exams.

We, the SSP, got a fairly disappointing if not surprising 0.9% - marginally up on our 2007 Parliamentary vote 0.6% but obviously way down on the last Euros in 2004 when we got 5.2% but that was another world away pre-split.

Other left groups the Socialist Labour Party (Scargill's project) gained the highest with 2% - but probably mainly due to error. They were right above the Labour Party in the ballot - first time that has ever happened. I saw quite a few spoiled papers at the count I was at (South Lanarkshire, if you're wondering) and a lot of them were of that nature eg scrubbed out votes at SLP replaced with Labour etc.

The no2eu group - set up by Bob Crow and basically an alliance of Solidarity (Sheridan's group) the SWs and the CWI got 800 votes less than us in Scotland and were a bit of a damp squib across Britain getting 1%. I think that shows the error of having such a narrow anti-EU focus - not really in touch with the left forces in Britain. Although they did have a point with some of their arguments about the neo-liberal nature of the EU in particular the Lisbon Treaty - though they did exaggerate them- historically there is not the base for left opposition to EU in Britain as there is in say France, Holland or Norway.

As a side issue it shows the continuing decline of Tommy Sheridan as an electoral brand. His name was on the ballot paper as one of their list candidates, yet this could not lift them amongst the marginal left votes. In fact the SSP got a bit more in Glasgow overall compared to 2007 where his party gained 4x more than SSP in the city.

But it's all pretty depressing given that the left were beaten by the Nazis (2.5% - more on them below) and even the fundamentalist Christian group (1.5%).

I suppose on the positives the Tories and the UKIP votes marginally fell (they more or less stayed static on a UK level). The Greens increased their vote to 7.3% and the Nats topped the poll with 29%. Though this was a big improvement on 2004 where they had a bad result in fact ending up with Swinney's resignation as leader it wasn't as high as their vote in the Scottish Parliament elections.

The universal story across Britain was the collapse of New Labour - they got 20.8% in Scotland - their lowest vote since 1918 and 15.7% in the UK as a whole - behind UKIP. It shows the game's basically up for Brown but there is no clear picture as to what the alternative would be - the Tories increased in Britain but not by very much, the Liberals more or less stayed the same. The Greens also did well and kept their 2 seats.

But back to the SSP there were a number of positives from the campaign - we raised all the funds from members and supporters for a fairly shoestring campaign - this didn't allow for a national mailing but did allow us a ppb - so we didn't get into more debt as party. The broadcast was strong and a good length for posting around the internet. I think our online campaign was a positive the first time we have used it so extensively with good website and u-tube/social networking presence. Another positive was an accident in the sense that we could exploit the publicity about the MPs' noses in their trough because of the expenses scandal - fitted in well with make greed history idea. We also gained a bit of coverage in media - though pretty limited and access to some hustings - although there were not a lot of them anyway.

The frustrating thing from all these positives is that they didnt matter to our vote. Objectively with the economic collapse and utter discrediting of the capitalist political elite a unified socialist party should be mopping up. One of the reasons proffered for standing was that the election would be a referendum on the economic collapse of capitalism generally and the British economy in particular - the first time people would have a national chance to have their say on Brown. In a sense this was true - witness the collapsed vote but certainly no anti capitalist force gained from this. With the partial exception of the Greens who I think are perceived like this even though their policies stay within the capitalist framework.

Colin (Fox) I think said at the hustings where we selected our candidates that there would be a much higher turn out at this election in Scotland than before as people would want to have their say against Brown and NuLabour. This wasn't true. In fact Scotland had one of its lowest ever showings at 26.1% I think 1999 was a bit lower. This was well below the UK average of 34% this time and lower than the Scottish vote of 30% in the 2004 election. People were actually less inspired to vote.

In such a context it was difficult for us to make an impact particularly even in the cities as we only had a fairly small number of activists involved - I would guess even less than were involved in the Glasgow East by-election last summer. Though we had a couple of good rallies - I thought the one in Glasgow was very positive.

It is difficult to see how we break out of our electoral irrelevance. Personally I think we should be engaging our branches with campaigns at community level like the anti-schools closure activists and the work being done in Maryhill with the burgh angel. Also working alongside other left groups on the Charter- whose launch I attended earlier this year (See blog post below) and the Social Fora. None of these is a silver bullet to coin a phrase which will relaunch the left electorally but at the moment it's probably the best we can do.

The other British story was the Nazi BNP gaining two seats in the North West of England and Yorkshire. In fact their national vote went up by 1.3% much less than the Greens who went up by 2.4%. Griffin and the other guy actually got less votes than in 2004 but because of Nulab's collapse and the low turnout they sneaked in.

The Nazi vote in Scotland was up by 0.8 - a bit less than England (although in Wales it went up 2.5%!) . Which is worrying particularly given the left's vote but they are still on the margins - given the blanket media coverage they got they probably wanted more.
I hate to think what they'll do with the resources from the Euro parliament though. Good to see Griffin get the reception he deserved at Parliament.

A bit of a messy result then.