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Category: A View From Islington North


Corbyn & May in the spotlight: read short satirical plays by top writers

Exclusive: read short new plays by Alistair Beaton, Stella Feehily and David Hare.

Sarah Alexander in The Accidental Leader. Photo by Robert Workman

“Oh, I do love your centre ground. Sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? The centre ground. But does the centre ground stay in the same place? I don’t think so.”
– The Accidental Leader

READ THE PLAYS:

Alistair Beaton: The Accidental Leader
Stella Feehily: How To Get Ahead In Politics
David Hare: Ayn Rand Takes A Stand

In May we opened a show called A View From Islington North*, comprising short political satires. Here we publish three of the scripts in full, with the kind permission of writers Alistair Beaton, Stella Feehily and David Hare. We think they make for a funny, exasperating and illuminating read.

One proved uncannily prescient: Alistair Beaton’s The Accidental Leader imagined a Labour MP orchestrating a mass resignation of shadow cabinet members in protest at the party’s Corbyn-like leader. We could barely believe it when in late June, towards the end of our run, this happened in real life almost exactly as Alistair had written it, to the extent that people who saw the play subsequently got in touch to ask if it had been hastily rewritten. We hadn’t changed a word. Alistair’s play brilliantly articulates the debate in the Labour Party today: the arguments over its soul, its mission, its achievements and the compromises it must make to gain power.

In the highly imaginative Ayn Rand Takes A Stand, David Hare puts the then home secretary Theresa May on stage in a searing piece that found a deep contradiction in her political philosophy. It’s well worth a read now she’s the boss.

And Stella Feehily’s gloriously cynical How To Get Ahead In Politics was inspired by accusations of bullying and sexual harassment within the Conservative Party and sees a Chief Whip practising his dark arts to contain a scandal.

READ THE PLAYS:

Alistair Beaton: The Accidental Leader
Stella Feehily: How To Get Ahead In Politics
David Hare: Ayn Rand Takes A Stand

SEE ALSO:

A brief history of satire
Can laughter change the world? Satirists on satire

*Islington North is Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency – and it’s also where Out of Joint is based!


If you’ve enjoyed reading (or seeing) these plays, please consider making a small gift to Out of Joint.

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The Accidental Leader & Corbyn – how fiction became reality

A middle aged man in suit and tie using a mobile phone and holding a piece of paper

Bruce Alexander in The Accidental Leader by Alistair Beaton. Photo by Robert Workman.

The Chambers English Dictionary defines ‘plot’ variously as a conspiracy: a stratagem or secret contrivance and: the story or scheme of connected events running through a play, novel etc.

Imagine my astonishment to find those two definitions of ‘plot’ suddenly merging. The dust had scarcely settled from David Cameron’s successful attempt to blow up Britain, when I started receiving puzzled enquiries from theatre-goers attending my short play THE ACCIDENTAL LEADER currently running at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End. People couldn’t understand how the play could have been written in 24 hours.

It wasn’t, of course.

Written several months ago, THE ACCIDENTAL LEADER tells the tale of a plot to oust a bearded, left-wing allotment-loving politician whose parliamentary party have lost all faith in his ability to win the next election. I wrote the play because I felt the election of Jeremy Corbyn was both a moment of hope (the end of politics as merely a version of management) and a moment of high anxiety (can a decent old leftie backbencher hack it as a modern leader?) and, like many people, was unsure about the outcome.

In the play, the plotters meet secretly to arrange the coup. Their strategy is simple. In order to make the event appear spontaneous (yes, they are perhaps a bit naïve) they plan to resign one by one over the space of a single day. Two of the plotters talk:

JIM: It’s been one of the great weaknesses of our party, Eleanor. 

ELEANOR: What has?

JIM: We’re too sentimental. We should be as ruthless as the other lot. They know a loser when they see one. Anyway, tomorrow you say whatever you want. That’s up to you. The main thing is – you resign. By 8pm tomorrow, we’ll have had eleven resignations from the shadow cabinet. He’ll be gone by midnight.

Alistair Beaton

Alistair Beaton

But the leader fights back. His heavies twist arms to breaking point. What happens next I don’t want to say. There are still tickets left for this, the last week of the run, and I’d like to suggest you go along and find out how it ends.

As to how the real-life drama ends, well, at the time of writing, the man’s still in post. Though not, I suspect, for much longer. The lesson? Integrity is not enough. Authenticity is not enough. As we watch our politicians lie about the lies they told during the campaign, Labour needs a leader who can fight and win an election later this year. Otherwise it’s goodbye Britain, hello Borisland. I shudder.

Alistair Beaton. 27 June 2016

THE ACCIDENTAL LEADER is part of a five-play production entitled A VIEW FROM ISLINGTON NORTH, running at the Arts Theatre London. Ends Saturday.

 

 

 

 

“You can be hated but you mustn’t be laughed at”

a caricature puppet of Margaret Thatcher at a war meeting with colleagues, at a table with miniature military figures and vehicles, from the Spitting Image tv show

Spitting Image (ITV/Rex/Shuttersock)

Is laughing at politics a catalyst for change – or a substitute? With A View From Islington North about to open in the West End, we asked three brilliant satirists about the relationship between comedy and politics.

JONATHAN LYNN co-wrote Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. He wrote and directed Clue and Nuns on the Run and has directed films including The Whole Nine YardsJOLYON RUBINSTEIN has won a BAFTA for writing and performing BBC3’s The Revolution Will Be Televised alongside Heydon Prowse. ALISTAIR BEATON wrote for Spitting Image and Not The Nine O’Clock News, and penned the TV films The Trail of Tony Blair and A Very Social Secretary. His play The Accidental Leader is premiered in A View From Islington North (the title of this article is a quote from the play).

Why does politics lend itself so well to comedy?

A young man in dark-rimmed glasses brandishing a video camera as if it was a gun

Jolyon Rubinstein

Jonathan Lynn: Insincerity, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, dishonesty and corruption are the ingredients of political activity. When these qualities are revealed in those who tell us how to live, what to think and what to do, the pleasure is irresistible.

Jolyon Rubinstein: Because the powerful dressing up the pursuit of their own rampant self interest as logical for the great unwashed is hilarious.

Alistair Beaton: Because it’s so serious. Its very hard to be funny about something that’s already funny.

What or who is ripe for satirical treatment at the moment?

JL: The target never changes: anyone who wants power over their fellow citizens.

JR: The left and right seem to both be simultaneously exploring their most extreme nether regions. Trump & sadly Zac Goldsmith seem to have ushered in the normalisation of open ‘no offence’ racism; whilst Sanders & Corbyn seem to have shown that collectivist, bottom-up hope needs silver hair and wrinkles to be considered authentic.

AB: Just about anyone who hasn’t yet faced up to climate change.

Tell us a piece of satire or political comedy you’ve particularly admired?

JL: The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol.

JR: Chris Morris and Brass Eye were a big influence on us.

AB: I love the savage intelligence of cartoonists such as Chris Riddell and Steve Bell. Going back in time, it’s hard to beat the Latin poets. Catullus is is up there with the best; he’s witty, filthy and fearless. Nowadays he’d probably be sued for libel.

close up of a man with a white beard smiling

Jonathan Lynn

Do you think satire has a purpose beyond entertainment – and do you think it ever succeeds?

JL: Satire is comedy with a purpose: it seeks to change society. But if it ever succeeds, which I doubt, the success is superficial and brief. Seven years of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister produced many laughs and some understanding of the way we’re governed – but no change for the better. I can’t think of a play that ever changed anything but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in making the effort: art is criticism of life and satire is criticism of life by ridicule. Absolutely necessary.

JR: Yes I do. Satire’s job is to ridicule the powerful by highlighting the absurdity of their deeds and actions. I think once you see the balloon of the most powerful pop we are all empowered. It reminds us that they are in fact just like us and that’s empowering.

AB: I’m not sure satire changes anything, but at the very least it fosters outrage – and gives heart to the losers.

Do you think there’s anything specific or unique about how the British portray the establishment?

a middle aged man smiling and leaning on a banister

Alistair Beaton

JL: British politicians are in trouble if they are perceived as having no sense of humour. We can get away with much more than satirists in many other countries because every politician dreads not being seen as a ‘good sport’. So satirists don’t get jailed or shot. Instead, the establishment embraces us, flatters us, and hands out OBEs and knighthoods to writers and comedians who are seen as a potential threat. Satirists are thus made part of the establishment, which is a much more sophisticated way of neutering them.

JR: Not particularly. We have a uniquely consolidated ‘establishment’ in London. It runs through the highest echelons of all our major industries and it’s as tightly kit as it’s ever been. Our establishment think they’ve won. They are vitriolic and have reframed their self interest as good for all of us, just like George Orwell said they would.

AB: There’s a healthy British tradition of irreverence towards power. But curiously, it’s mixed with a sickly respect for outdated institutions. What other country would fail to abolish the House of Lords? (Not to mention the House of Windsor).