“Oh my goodness, there’s a communist looking after my accounts!” Says one of my company’s most lucrative clients, as he spots my Jeremy Corbyn screensaver. Great. Now I’m trapped in a basement office full of Tories, ones that pay my wages, charged with the task of defending my personal politics, sans profanity. Rats. Perhaps I should have opted for a less controversial image instead; maybe the 2015 equivalent of Anna Kournikova picking her knickers out of her bum-crack, or Tom Hardy waving a big gun around.
I tell the client that Corbyn represents hope and radical opposition to the austerity regime. “I don’t believe he could achieve a lot of what he proposes within the current structure, ” I say, “but I support his intentions.”
In his elderly, ex-public-school voice, the client condemns Corbyn as a relic: “Socialism has never worked before, why should it do so now? Don’t you know your history? Look at Stalin’s Russia.”
“Jeremy Corbyn’s hardly a dictator,” I say, rolling my eyes, “he thinks policy should be made by the people. He could provide a stepping stone towards anarchism.”
“What? Anarchy? You mean chaos?” He looks at me incredulously. “Well yes, he’d certainly ruin the country given half the chance.”
(If I had a better memory I might have quoted Noam Chomsky at that point:
“…at every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to – rather than alleviate – material and cultural deficit. If so, there will be no doctrine of social change fixed for the present and future, nor even, necessarily, a specific and unchanging concept of the goals towards which social change should tend.”)
Instead, I mutter something about anarchism having no fixed shape. “Our focus in this political climate should be on ‘bottom-up politics’, not a ‘top-down’ hierarchical structure.” I say. “For example; Corbyn speaks of raising corporation tax and closing down off-shore tax havens with top-down legislation, a good sentiment but…”
The client smugly interrupts me, “…Which would drive large businesses out of the UK and force them into investing, and creating workforces elsewhere, thus weakening the economy and creating mass unemployment.”
“Maybe so.” I concede. “But this pivotal issue is another example of British apathy and the offloading of our social responsibilities onto a bunch of warring politicians. We already hold the solution to that one: We, the people, should discern which businesses are not paying their taxes AND BOYCOTT THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. Then we buy our commodities from local, ethical companies and the money stays within our economy.”
In a viciously accusatory tone, the client says, “And are YOU prepared to stop shopping on Amazon?”
That night, I’m feeling physically relieved to be out of the office and on a train to London. I meet Chuck at Peckham Rye station and we make our way, under a cloudless sky to a multi-storey car-park, the venue for ‘Sophocles: The Monologue Series’, where, from the roof, we watch the sunset streak the infamous London skyline purple and orange before the performance begins.
Stylish-glasses and anorak wearing thirty-somethings gather on Level 3, within a makeshift auditorium comprised of MDF walls and straw-bale seats. Four young ac-tors recite selected Classical Greek verse, directly followed by parallel themed contemporary expressions, written especially for this evening. ‘Look how history repeats itself’, the audience are supposed to think: ‘In 400BC, people were just as bereaved, unfaithful, jealous and depressed as they are now!’
I think about the client at work and how he’d tried to stuff his opinion down my windpipe without my having the option of escape. I’m starting to get that lucid déjà vu again, the one where I’m lying on a hospital gurney and there’s a red light shining in my eyes.
Chuck squeezes my knee and gives me ‘a look’. I’m back in the room. Before us, Electra’s distraught modern counterpart is chopping lines out of her brothers ashes, with a credit card stolen from an audience member’s handbag, and snorting them with a rolled up till receipt. Smart move I think; her chances of contracting Hep C would have been much higher had she opted for thieving a ten-pound note.
Recent experiences of budget theatre have led me to identify some of the techniques that might be considered to constitute ‘good acting’:
1. Lowering the voice to sound sexually aroused, whist simultaneously putting on a velvety aristocratic accent that pertains to no particular region of England actually in existence, ever.
2. After a booming emotional crescendo, switching suddenly to a whispered moment of reflection before shaking the audience back out of their slumber with another unexpected onslaught of yelling.
3. Wandering to the front of the stage and staring into the middle ground whilst shielding ones eyes, as though looking for the answer to ‘what is the meaning of life?’
4. Raising ones face to the spotlight during a moment of personal realisation, to cast perfect film noir eyelash shadows over those high cheekbones.
5. Doing a weird stumble-cum-trip across the stage – like the tango to no music without a partner, and stopping abruptly every so often to deliver another line, marking the point when your character is starting to go mad.
I watch with satisfaction as each of the four ac-tors employ these techniques with such gusto and aplomb that all meaning in their lines is lost amidst the spectacle. Just as I did after my charged political debate with ‘the client’ this afternoon, I feel hyper-aware of the division in society between those afraid of change and those who long for it. Half the audience look impressed (probably also trained actors), the other half amused (probably friends of the performers, ill-equipped to judge their proficiency, wondering what fucking cultural relevance this whole thing really has). But don’t get me wrong yeah, it is very entertaining.
To my pre-menstrual brain, it seems there is nothing new in either Art or politics, just an endless cycle of promise followed by disillusionment. I decide that after the weekend, I will change my screensaver to an image of Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square.
In the morning, Chuck sets off on his weekly coach-trek across the country to visit his critically ill mum in hospital. I head central to catch the 800-year anniversary exhibition of the Magna Carta at the British library. We agree to keep each other updated on the day’s events via text message.
Me: I’m at Kings Cross eating superfood salad and drinking soya caramel cappuccino.
Him: The fat woman behind me just apologised to the woman who sat down next to her: “Sorry, my arse tends to spread out.”
Me: Just did the full audio tour of the Magna Carta exhibition – it was fantastic.
Him: Just ate my fishy pasta on the bus. No one seemed to mind.
Me: I am on the South Bank enjoying waiting for a street poet to write me a bespoke ‘Dear John’ letter. He keeps looking over at me, scowling and screwing up the bits of paper from his typewriter.
Him: Oh no. Ask him if his name is Lewis.
So here I am, thinking I’m buying a one-off original piece of artistic literature from this struggling street artist who will invariably turn out to be a genius wordsmith (and get picked up one day by an agent who will ensure he has a wonderful career like Bob & Roberta Smith)… when actually, I realise I’ve stepped out onto thin ice.
What has happened is that I have just paid my new boyfriend’s old housemate Lewis to write a letter, the contents of which could be construed as an attempt by me to exit the relationship in some kooky, misguided fashion, i.e. dump him like a coward. Shit. Why did I say Dear John letter? I could have opted for ‘suicide note’. This is not at all the trajectory I wanted my day to take. Chuck could be sitting by his seriously ailing mother’s bedside right now, reading my text message and thinking we’re over.
Me: Lewis says hello. I pointed out that I’m not actually planning to break up with you but that I’ll keep his note safe in case I change my mind at some point.
Him: Is it rude to eat my mum’s Ferrero Rocher while she is sleeping?
This is one of the things I love about Chuck; he doesn’t worry about anything until it actually happens. ‘Laid back’, I think they call it. (Mistakenly, I used to think laid back meant ‘dull and lazy’, but it turns out it just means ‘unlikely to have panic attacks because one-day your girlfriend might write about your sex-life on the Internet.’)
Temporarily, I am very relieved. I sit on a bench watching the ebb and flow of The Thames until panicky made-up notions of having upset Chuck disappear from my mind, only to be replaced by despairing thoughts about Tony Blair, the infamous war criminal. In the second to last room of the Magna Carta exhibition, there is a series of satirical cartoons about how Blair misused the doctrine to support clauses in The Terrorism Act 2006 that are still in place now, and severely contravene human rights.
As if to illustrate my disillusionment, the floating yoda street performer who has maintained perfect posture ten feet away from my bench for the duration of my literary commission (and mini mental freak out) decides to take a lunch break. Oh, so that’s how the mechanics of those things work, I think, as he dismounts awkwardly from his steel pole support system and removes first his cloak, and then his face.
By Rachel James