Playing With Fire
12 September-22 October
The National Theatre, London
Phone 020 7452 3000
I wrote a play in the 1970’s called Destiny that dealt with the National Front during the period that saw the birth of the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism.
That play was, in a small way, a part of that whole movement — the campaign to expose the National Front as being a Nazi party.
That fact was by no means generally agreed. But during the 1979 general election I listened to the radio and they described the National Front vote as the fascist vote. I thought that was a real victory.
So when the British National Party (BNP) started gaining seats in 2001, around the time of the riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, I thought it was time to discuss the subject again. In fact, my new play was originally going to be Destiny 2.
But I moved away from that for two reasons. The first is that I didn’t want to put a play on the main stage in the National Theatre saying the BNP was a huge threat when it wasn’t.
So we waited until last May’s general election, in which the BNP did very badly.
The far right appear in the play, but they are not the central feature.
The second thing was that I read the reports on the riots and the national report by Ted Cantle — which has been cited a lot since the London bombings on the 7 July.
The segregation of communities was imposed through racist housing practices by local authorities and estate agents. As late as the 1990s Oldham was found to still be discriminating in its housing policy, reinforcing segregation within our societies.
The bombing on 7 July began to effect the play.
When we discovered that the bombers where “home grown”, and from areas very much like the setting of the play, people began to make the connection between the 2001 riots and the bombings.
I’m very glad that the play is intervening in that conversation, because I don’t believe there is a direct connection between the two.
But this is not a play about suicide bombers, in fact it very deliberately does not mention the Iraq war.
Clearly since 9/11 there has been an upsurge of political theatre. This has come after a long period where new writing was dominated by people shouting and shooting up in a flat in south London.
I am the great stopped clock of English theatre, in that I started by writing political plays and I have continued to write them.
So I welcome this new rise of political discussion in theatre — but I feel that a lot of these very good plays, are filling a hole left by journalism.