There's a story parents on Teesside tell children about a wicked hag that lives in the Tees. Peg Powler grabs by the ankles children playing too close to the edge, drags them under, and drowns them. Then she feasts on their skin and flesh.
On 22nd November 1990 I was in the final year of primary school when the school secretary stuck her head round the door. "Mrs Price", she said, "Mrs Thatcher's resigned". And we all stood up and cheered. We scarcely knew who she was, or why we loathed her, but we knew, every one of us, that loathe her is what our mams and dads did, and we were delighted. People sang "ding dong the witch is dead" then, too.
In 1987, Margaret Thatcher came to Stockton-on-Tees and visited the site of Head Wrightson's newly demolished heavy engineering works. It had closed that June, despite only twenty years earlier employing over six thousand people and covering 68 acres, sprawling across the south bank of the Tees and creating a racket that could be heard the length of Stockton High Street. Not now. Thatcher's walk became known as her "walk in the wilderness". It was the moment she pledged herself to urban regeneration, and indeed the area became a business park. But Maggie seemed the whole time oblivious to the fact that her policies, not just the winds of change, were what meant it needed regenerating at all. Her sanctification of market forces produced the systematic destruction of our manufacturing industries - and of the communities that worked in them. That's what gave her a wilderness to walk in.
If you want a piece of drama to make me cry, all you need to do is stick in a bit about the miners' strike. Gets me every time. It's in the bones and the blood.
To this day, the image or the voice of Thatcher cause in me a physical horror. I can't be the only one who sees her face when hearing Peg Powler's name.
I'm working on Teesside at the moment, in my fancy middle class job making theatre. I feel tremendous pride in and love for my home region. The trouble is, I always find it that little bit harder to maintain this when I'm actually here. That business park is nothing to inspire pride and Stockton's once thriving Georgian High Street is now a mix of charity shops, pound shops and betting shops. Some of the most beautiful Georgian buildings were knocked down in 1971 for a shopping centre, to widespread public fury. This street, where the friction match was invented, within sight of the terminus of the first-ever passenger railway journey, is dying. Not much more than five minutes out of town is a housing estate suspended mid-demolition, with a few scattered houses obstinately surviving the project's having run out of money. Meeting people to gather material for this project
I find an enormous amount of inspiring history, but keep running up against a lack of hope in the present.
Thatcher didn't do this. But it is done in her name.
So if you grew up in the north east in the 1980s - or before - you're unlikely to shed tears over the death of Maggie Thatcher. I feel no triumph, mind. I've no interest in dancing on her grave, not least because that's the sort of nasty vicious compassionless thing she'd have done. I can understand those who want to celebrate their community's survival of the woman who wanted to destroy it, but for myself, no. I'm not pleased. I was surprised on Monday to find that in fact I felt tremendously upset. I was reminded of Ralph at the end of Lord of the Flies, weeping at the end of his ordeal, weeping at his rescue, not before. He weeps "for the end of innocence, for the darkness in man's heart". He weeps because what he now knows makes this no rescue at all.
An old woman with a familiar name has died, but Maggie Thatcher is still in Government under a different name: rather, the same name with an ism at the end. Thatcherism is worse than Thatcher, more compassionless, more destructive. When that dies, then, then I'll dance. For now, Peg Powler is still lurking under the Tees, still grasping at children's ankles, still feasting on our skin and flesh.
- Turn it back on.
- I'm not looking at that
- It's Dermot Murnaghan.
- All these pictures of I'm not looking at that why do they need to show that?
- They have to.
- All those skinny naked people with their ribs and their stomachs and ugh?
- They have to show it.
- It's horrifying.
- Turn it back on.
- I'm not looking at it.
- You have to.
- I'm sorry I physically I can't look.
- It's your duty to look.
- Fuck off. My duty?
- If you don't look, that's you looking away isn't it?
That's you saying, this is ok,
I'm turning a blind eye to this,
I'm looking away.
You have to look at it.
- but it's horrifying
- Do you not see?
- What am I achieving by looking?
- You're confronting it.
- I'm not.
I'm getting used to it.
I'm making it normal.
If I look for long enough the holocaust will become ok.
If I look for long enough I won't care.
- Looking doesn't make it ok.
- The world needs more people who can't look.
- Turn it back on.
I haven't written much on here for a while, because I've been fighting with a much longer piece of prose writing. I'm going to put a bit of it up here in a day or so, to remind you I exist and occasionally do thinking. In the meantime, a thought on arts subsidy:
In Ancient Athens, theatre productions were largely funded by the state. The audiences, up to 14,000 strong, came for free. This was the production model of Sophocles, and Aeschylus, and Euripides.
The audiences had, for the most part, recently been on the stage themselves, in the opening of the Festival in which they were watching these plays. They'd been in one of a number of choral dithyrambs, singing and dancing to the same rhythms as the chorus in tragedy. So when they saw a chorus on stage in the tragedies, they knew what that felt like.
(The chorus in Greek tragedy is usually constituted of a gathering of citizens. Anyone who tells you you're meant to identify with Oedipus, or Medea, isn't paying attention. I'm looking at you, Aristocratle. Because really: as an audience member, you've got an embodied understanding of what it is to be the chorus, and you share a social identity with that chorus. And there they are, interrogating their political leaders.)
In Ancient Athens, theatre productions were largely funded by the state. The audiences, up to 14,000 strong, came for free. They had an embodied understanding of what it was to be in the chorus as they watch the extraordinary catastrophes befallen by their political leaders.
When you're told "they didn't need arts subsidies in Ancient Greece", know that this is a lie, and know for what purpose this lie is being told.
It will be familiar to anyone who writes, although the point of being a writer is that you'll all express it differently. Running up against a brick wall is perhaps the most commonly-re-circulated cliche. The masochists bang their heads against that brick wall. Others think of it as hammering on a locked door, or beating their fists against it. Or they're trapped in the car on a gridlocked motorway when they want to be Michael Douglas in Falling Down. I may have made that last one up. But the point is, there are as many images for stuckness as there are writers to get stuck. And hey, isn't it ridiculous that when we get stuck we try to generate imagery for the stuckness, rather than for whatever it is we're meant to be writing about? But stay with me, because there's a happy ending.
I don't ever think of it as "writer's block" and nor have I heard more than one or two writers I know describe it that way. Peculiarly, because what is that brick wall, that door, that gridlock - if not a block?
More, I'm allergic to public discussions of writer's block. They usually help propagate the myth that writers spend more time stuck, wringing our hands, drinking coffee, mucking about on twitter, than actually writing anything. They give the impression (by which I mean it gives me the impression) that writing happens in short magical bursts interrupted by long self-indulgent spells of just being stuck. Writing as waiting for a bus, a bus on which you go one stop then wait another hour for the next one. Such discussions make writing seem to involve exponentionally more time unable to write than anything else at all. This is mythology perpetuated by writers to make it look heroically difficult, like Prometheus more in his punishment than in his producing a spark. Admittedly, writing is really hard. But you're not getting your liver pecked out by crows. Get over yourself. It's as though somehow the struggle validates the result. It doesn't.
Yes, most writing happens slowly, but more often than not it happens. There is perpetual movement, usually slow, sometimes sporadic, but you're not pushing boulders uphill. It rarely hurts at all. You're writing! This is what you wanted to do all those years! Even when it's slow, enjoy it. I wrote the present sentence on my third swing through this post, and it's just a stupid blog post. Imagine how slow work can be on something that matters!
This sometimes slow, sometimes really slow work is then gradually assembled into a form calculated to give the impression of ease. This impression does as much to put off new writers as the myths of inspiration and interminable stuckness. When stuckness comes into the conversation, I tend to find myself thinking - or saying - work on a different bit, then. There's always something you can do. The only way to get over it is to get on with it.
I write this having yesterday become unstuck. Which always happens, eventually. It took CS Lewis eleven years to come up with a name for one of the characters in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but he got there in the end. I'm sure he was busy with other things for some of that time, but still, eleven years. And then he kicked that motherfucking door down - and the result was Mr Tumnus. He was in no doubt it was worth the wait.
I think of these blockages as waters lapping against a dam. Wave upon wave surges up against the problem and the dam don't give a fuck. The volume of material builds until it can surely only be a matter of time before the dam yields. And yet nothing. Lap, lap, lap. Wall.
Because for me, at least, the real blockages are never at the level of individual scenes. With those I can simply write and re-write until something seems to work. More to the point, I work on scenes with others in the room, and there's a great pleasure in working and reworking material moment by moment and watching it take coherent shape. But the volume of material could build eternally without solving the real problems. We could submerge entire countries without shifting the dam.
No, the hard part is arranging the everything in such a way that it forms an elegant whole. In such a way that all those scenes and moments earn their place and make sense in the same show. I haven't yet found a way of working on this birds-eye view collectively that isn't hell for everyone involved. In the rehearsal room, we work from inside the material and inside an imaginary audience. The big problems need fixing from a distance, from outside. Yet in attempting to fix them alone, I still keep gushing up against the dam, when what I'm really trying to do is get far enough away to see the whole thing.
Since finishing the first draft of How To Occupy An Oil Rig, I've been in that formless tide for over three months. There are a few small things to fix. We can do those in the room. More to the point, the beginning and the end have a lot about them, but the middle is shit, both on its own terms and in terms of enabling the beginning and the end to have anything to do with one another. There's some material that needs to go into the beginning and some in other places, and there are some huge gaps to fill. And the structure as it stands doesn't come close to accommodating all of these changes.
The premiere is scheduled and although it's seven months away, it's on the wrong side of the dam, and who knows how long I'll be bobbing around over here? The terror is some way away, but there is still that voice, that unhelpful voice, that says "what if you don't ever get across?"
As far as I'm concerned the millions of books on writing and structure are there to help me when I'm stuck. I want to think of the show as architecture rather than bricks and I need to look at it from as far away as possible. But in this case they didn't. Most of them are the same anyway and I just end up looking at it from a succession of small variations on the same viewpoint.
Then yesterday I watched a piece of work with a particular awareness of its own structure. No, I'm not about to tell you what it was. I don't want you looking for it when you come see the show. (Not least because it isn't there.) But walking home, I saw my own structure from a new and unfamiliar angle, and the dam yielded. It didn't crumble. There was no destruction. It was simply removed, and the water surged forward unimpeded.
I walked up the hill making notes on my phone the whole way and stood on the front doorstep in the biting cold for five minutes finishing. Twenty minutes, to clear three months' resistance. Since then, relief. This can work. Maybe even this will work. I can write for two weeks and fix all the problems. I'm writing this post out of that burst of energy, because it's nearly the holidays and I'm going to Paris in an hour, then family family family. So I'm saving the pleasure of work until the New Year, knowing it to be do-able, more, waiting to be done.
A different part of my brain knows that when I do it I'll find plenty of new problems. But for now I'm headed for the coast, and it feels fucking great.
It's mandatory for 70% of blog posts to begin with an apology for their own recent paucity, so here goes. I promised myself I'd post at least twice a week while making the new show. At least three separate people have expressed an interest in following the process. Instead, I've been up at six every morning rewriting pages, or writing pages based on the work of the day before. We've worked until seven or eight, at which point a few emails, tea, then bed. I'd have done lots of useful thinking about ways of working as a writer within devised theatre if I'd any space left in my head. Sorry about that.
As it is, I've learned nothing that isn't in one of the two following categories: stuff we all already know, but didn't necessarily feel in our bones; and stuff that's useful only for making this show. Certainly, nothing that I can think about in sentences I'm prepared to publish. Instead I'm going to talk very briefly about titles, then maybe I'll have something more substantial to say once the show's open.
The new show, then, is subtitled How to Occupy an Oil Rig, and when its full, finished version goes out next year that will be its actual title. Publicity for this six-show preview run had to go out before we'd really figured out which show we were making, so at the moment it's still called Ash. This is a fine title, but it's not quite the right one. In my notes, The Price of Everything crops up repeatedly as Value and then as Milk before appearing as itself. It seems I work through from the subject, to a substance with some metaphorical weight in the piece, towards an actual title that relates somehow to form as well as content. I'd never have noticed this, but at two out of two, on recent form I'm dangerously close to developing a method.
Fortunately this is by no means apparent in the form of the work itself, which is in lots of ways totally different to The Price of Everything. There are three of us in it, for a start.
I find this process of generating titles unbearably difficult, so it made me laugh out loud when Erica Whyman, hearing the projected title for next year, said "you're really good at titles". I dread starting work a new show not because of the show (that's always exciting), but because of the title. It has to be somehow a promise of the piece, a bunch of grapes identifiable but just out of reach. Ash, I thought had that: it connotes so much. Too much, as it turns out, for the form of this work, which is explicitly a series of how-to demonstrations created or culled from various sources, juxtaposed to create or reveal narrative. The title needs to be flatter, less allusive, more mechanistic. The ashes of Ash are still in How to Occupy an Oil Rig's DNA, but this is an instruction manual, not a volume of poetry.
It's surprising how much poetry there is in the instructional form. How playful it can be, how various. How bizarre as well as banal. Put the words "how to" into YouTube (this is safe for work) and you'll see what I mean.
Because no-one reads the instruction manual. Maybe they would if it told them a story starring themselves.
(Originally posted at Exeunt
It took Stewart Lee’s article in the Guardian to remind me that it’s not always like this. A blissfully straightforward tech with an army of brilliant technicians and regular visits from the artistic director bearing cake. Tickets flying off the shelves – I sold more in advance of this Fringe than I’ve sold by the end of some others. Even the flat seems to be in full working order. It’s bloody weird.Northern Stage
have done us proud. You could almost forget this is an Edinburgh venue – even though when I turned up for my tech in space two, they were still building space one. There’s a real sense of pride in the venue, in a venue programmed with a meaningful sense of something the artists have in common beyond their ability to pay to hire the space. That this is nothing more than geographical coincidence might make it appear a thin commonality at best. Not so. There’s a common set of experiences and values born of making work at a distance from the capital. Northern Stage have recognised the particular challenges of that distance and built a programme around it.
And they’ve taken the risk. None of us have had to pay anything beyond what it costs to get to Edinburgh and actually do the show. Northern Stage have arranged everything: press, marketing, box office, even accommodation. If I weren’t on at 11.30am, I’d think this was a venue on the touring circuit, not the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
My first instinct is that it makes a pleasant change this way round: theatremakers from the north getting the support, rather than everything happening for them in that London. As Annie Rigby, director of the brilliant Best in the World
, said at Northern Stage’s venue launch last month, it can be hard for theatre-makers so far from the capital to get the national attention their work deserves. When something at a London Fringe theatre will get reviewed in every national paper, and something at a major northern venue will be lucky to get reviewed in one, what chance have emerging artists got? So huge credit to Northern Stage for bringing so many of us to a genuinely national festival and making us feel at home.
My first instinct, though, is wrong. In fact, it’s easier for theatremakers to emerge outside of London. I’ve always been bewildered by the drift of artists to the Big Smoke after graduation, towards doubled living costs and quadrupled competition. Having lived (for family reasons) in London for eighteen months, I’m even more bewildered. What possible advantage accrues to emerging artists by being somewhere so huge, expensive and impersonal? Venues like Northern Stage have always made it easier for artists to develop work and careers.
But you can be a major artist within your region, yet virtually unknown beyond it. Gary Kitching’s show Me and Mr C
is a highlight of the Northern Stage programme, but I bet you’d never heard of him before unless you live in the North East. Likewise Unfolding Theatre’s Best in the World
So what Northern Stage are doing makes a phenomenal contribution to the regional theatre ecology. Non-London-based theatremakers have always been enabled by local support to emerge just so far.
Then they often remain stuck, half-butterfly, half-chrysalis, unable to take that next step. Initiatives like Northern Stage at St Stephen’s help stem the talent drain to London, where the talent often remains just as stuck, too busy filing empty documents or pulling four-pound pints to get around to making that breakthrough show.
And it would be a mistake to say that the work is united only by its having been made in the North of England. Only one or two of the shows are centrally about their point of origin – there’s nothing parochial about What I Heard About the World
or Best in the World
, for example. And they’re just the ones whose titles make that most obvious.
Which isn’t to say that the work isn’t rooted in its regionality in other, more complex ways. My show The Price of Everything
isn’t about Middlesbrough, but the second half of the show is a story set there. The show is about what we value and how we measure that value, but its roots are my roots; my work emerges from a troubled relationship with a hometown I love and loathe, even when that’s not the work’s subject.
Only by going back to our socio-cultural roots, I might be suggesting, can we discover and perhaps change the behavioural loops in which we are collectively stuck. I also think that change – real, radical change – tends to develop in parts of society that are considered marginal. The peasants’ revolt, the Jarrow march, the miners’ strike – all started some way from the capital. The imaginary utopia I hallucinate in the second half of The Price of Everything
, it seems to me, just couldn’t grow anywhere the powers-that-be were really paying attention.
In myriad ways, the other work at Northern Stage at St Stephen’s also seems to me to be marinated in its distance from the cultural centre. Best in the World
isn’t about Gateshead, where Unfolding Theatre are based. But whereas Martin Amis, the iconic metropolitan, uses darts in London Fields
to signify a sort of disgusting otherness, Best in the World
uses the sport to signify a potential even the most ordinary among us has for greatness. “If you believe in democracy, you believe in darts.” The show is studded with sporting (and other) greats from the North East and Scotland.
Meanwhile, What I Heard About the World
takes as its very premise a distance from the many places in the world about which we think we know something. It uncovers the sort of marginalia for other countries and cultures that work about Sheffield might be seen as by London. Its makers’ situation away from the centre of events, and from the centre of where such knowledge is produced, seems encoded into its thinking.
I’m pleased that discussion of the work at this venue has focused on its quality, rather than its regionality. It may be the chip on my shoulder speaking, but I bet that if the work had been less successful, its regionality would have been more widely discussed. So let’s take a moment to remember that all of these terrific shows are the work of northern artists, and that’s not a coincidence. Their northern-ness is part of what makes them good.
Cinema isn't live, which is why this was such fun.
Last week I became possibly the world's first live trailer for a piece of theatre.
During the trailers before two separate showings of Cosmopolis at ARC in Stockton, my big face turned up to talk about Ash, which is on there in September. This would have just been a big version of a rubbish YouTube video, except that I was there live, talking to this actual audience. The couple at the back in matching his and hers glasses. The bloke in the fourth row with sunglasses on his head. The woman at the front in the loudly flowery skirt.
The audience were initially bewildered, then they enjoyed it volubly. At the end, some people waved.
I enjoyed it so much, we're doing it again next week.
I'll let you know if any of them come.
On Twitter yesterday afternoon, I asked this question:
"I'm wondering if reviewers who get a comp and write nothing should be asked to retroactively pay for their ticket. Thoughts?"
A lot of people got quite hot under the collar. One person called my 'proposal' "unethical" and said it was "basically blackmailing people into writing a review".
So for the avoidance of doubt at the outset, I am not seriously proposing we do this. It's good to know that people have got the hang of reading between the lines of my tweets, and understanding that they're seldom completely guileless. But in this case, it was. It wasn't a proposal; I genuinely simply wanted to know what people think. My apologies to all those who forcefully 'agreed' with me.
There are all sorts of reasons it isn't a good idea. It's good for critics to see a broad range of work even if they're not able to write about all of it. It might still make its way into a later feature or round-up even if you don't get a full review. I'm prepared to take the chance. And often reviews end up spiked for reasons that are, frankly, kinder to the performers. But more to the point, newspaper budgets are sufficiently stretched that I don't imagine arts editors are going to start forking out for tickets on the off-chance of a review. And expecting the critics to pay in these cases is yet another way of guaranteeing that our critics come from that small pool of people who can afford to get on.
It is nonetheless, I think, slightly absurd to suggest that expecting a critical response in return for the ticket is "unethical", even more so to suggest that it's "blackmail". It seems more likely that the initial comp (in exchange for an expected review) is blackmail than that the request for payment like everyone else (in the event of non-delivery of that review) is so. But it's such an institutionalised form of blackmail that we've forgotten it's there. Consequently, it doesn't really work.
But that brings into focus the more pertinent question: what is the nature of the contract when we give reviewers a comp? We obviously don't expect a good review, but do we have a right to expect something? We gave you the ticket because you have an audience whom you could tell about the show. If you don't tell them, should we continue to give you tickets?
In the case of The Price of Everything in Edinburgh, which is lucky enough to be selling out most days, that's a) a ticket that could have been bought by a member of the public and therefore b) £10 I have personally given you. Any critics saying they're not well-paid enough to write up everything they see could spend a moment considering that most performers in Edinburgh (and I'm not one of them, but I'm hardly making a weekly wage, let alone a packet) are losing money hand over fist. Earlier this year I finally paid off the credit card bill run up by bringing shows to Edinburgh 2003-07.
(All of which reveals that the initial spur behind my question is, really, nothing more than sour grapes. I have directly given away money as a sort of investment in potential marketing materials. It's honestly worth the risk, as it happens, and I have no real gripe with the system. And I have no real right to any frustration. The show is selling out and I've had several very nice reviews. I suppose that's part of why I feel reasonably comfortable raising the question - I don't really have anything riding on it. I'm one of the lucky ones.)
Here's the interesting and totally unsurprising thing. Overwhelmingly, artists forcefully agreed with the assumed proposal in the question and critics opposed it just as forcefully. Critics (with some exceptions) did not feel that the privilege of a free ticket left them with any obligations. They may be right. That probably is the nature of the agreement. And so the critics who responded tended to defend their (totally defensible) position, with some of the arguments I've advanced above. Meanwhile, performers shared and expressed the same sense of frustration that gave rise to the original question. So both sides have a point.
At the very least, this bespeaks a lack of clarity in the expectations underlying the relationship. How do we clear it up?
Before each performance of The Price of Everything, I have a little routine. Aside from the bit about putting on a fresh pair of socks just before the show, it involves me enumerating all the things that scare me about the pending performance. Big audience, small audience, culturati, styx: there's no audience that doesn't have the potential to be a little daunting. If it wasn't, I somehow wouldn't be doing my job properly. I have to take you seriously as people who want to have a good time or I'll be slapdash and lazy.
Then after spending a bit of time with all these anxieties, I say to myself, right. I'm going to enjoy this. And I do. Mostly, so do the audience.
Edinburgh is particularly big and scary. I've done the show about twenty times, to audiences of between forty and five hundred, to audiences packed with members of arts council staff, to an audience entirely constituted of promoters, to audiences largely composed of my extended family, to houses full and half-empty and once, memorably, to an audience of five hundred academics in a banqueting hall. Each of them, in prospect, has seemed like the toughest audience ever.
Now that's how Edinburgh seems. I started getting nervous two or three days ago, and it may last the whole month. A hardcore theatre-going crowd, national press, promoters daily. Eesh. Twenty times in a row.
But actually, you're lovely, aren't you?
I'm going to enjoy this.
How refreshing to see a piece of theatre that isn't afraid to wear its values on its sleeves. At first glance The Lion King
might appear to be just clumsy-mimsy right-on pro-immigration handclapping. In fact it's far cleverer than that: it's a hymn sung to the glories of patriarchy, authority and the political right. Lovely. I'm surprised Quentin Letts ever goes to see anything else.
Take the King. Mufasa brilliantly represents everything that has been lost by limp-wristed contemporary masculinity, dominating his hyena underclass with a no-nonsense iron fist, and making fun by dangling his staff's jobs in front of them. They certainly know who's boss. Even though he is a lion, Mufasa is so manly he walks on two legs with a gait that suggests balls the size of coconuts. We could do with someone like him to take the mewling Tory party by the scruff of their necks and parade them before a fawning stupefied people. They don't know they're born.
His brother Scar, by contrast, is the embodiment of evil, murdering his brother, stealing his throne, and heralding a deeply sinister "new era of lion-hyena co-operation". (How brave of Mr Disney to use an all-ethnic cast to demonstrate the dangers of inter-racial mixing!) We know Scar is evil right from the off, because even though he lives in the savannah, it is always dark when he is on stage. And his taking the throne from a rightful King - that step towards Communism! - is clearly and unambiguously shown as against nature: the very crops are blighted, wither and die. And then already awful Scar gets worse: he could have any lioness, but only lazily contemplates marriage when the question of an heir comes up. I bet Mufasa had no such namby qualms, rutting anything without a mane. That's what I call a real man. But what do you expect from arrivistes like Scar? Power corrupts, unless you're supposed to have it, like big-balls Mufasa, or emotional simpleton Simba.
The production is really about Simba, a power-crazed junior sociopath who "just can't wait to be king". Sporting Jimmy Porter-esque levels of self-absorption, our anti-hero has everything it takes to succeed in a lion-eat-lion world. And delightfully, this anti-hero has none of Porter's fashionable lefty whiny. His mantra means "no worries" and boy does he live by it. Even when confronted with the sudden, brutal death of his father, some rudimentary fart gags are enough to ensure he doesn't spend the whole show moping. I'm not quite sure why his accent changes so radically upon his accession to adulthood, but thank heaven it doesn't transform into that of the warthog and the other one who taught him his mantra Hakuna Matata. It's fine for such people to teach in schools, so long as they keep their opinions to themselves and don't shove them down the throats of innocent children.
Much has been written about The Lion King's narrative debt to Hamlet, but more interestingly, the production is proof positive that experimental theatre techniques aren't limited to service of the Left. I particularly liked the participatory elements, with the Revenue Control Officer hurtling up and down the Grand Circle's vertiginous steps flashing her torch at any audience member with the temerity to take film poor-quality footage of something available on CD and DVD for not much more than the cost of an extra ticket. There were also powerful elements of durational performance, particularly in the scenes with the parrot.
The moral of the whole thing is summed up in the excellent songs by Sir Elton of John and Lord Timothy Rice-Webber. It's all about "the circle of life". To end up other than where you started is against the natural order of things: "I am not who I was", protests Simba, resisting his natural destiny as King. "Remember who you are", replies his father, and just like that, he does. The only good change is a reactionary change.
At the end, there's an interesting moment when two of the play's value systems collide. Scar has to die, because the death penalty is just, and the only appropriate punishment for communists. But Simba cannot kill him, because then he will be a murderer and deserve death at the hands of the universe. To be honest, I think Simba should just have killed Scar. We'd all have been on his side, foaming as we were for the blood of the usurper. But the play cleverly side-steps the issue by having Scar fall off a convenient cliff. I didn't know they had any in the savannah, but they must have. How else is a monarch to survey his Kingdom?
Yes, The Lion King might look like it's just fucking atrocious, but it's actually far more serious than that.