There is an old maxim that says you should never discuss religion or politics in polite company. Well today I am going to do both, by sharing a couple of articles that have caught my left-leaning, atheist attention.
Firstly politics. Despite the best efforts of the out-going right-wing government in the UK to decimate all things culture by way of spending cuts in the name of austerity, whilst at the same time ringing the death knell of arts education in schools, theatre, by all accounts, would seem to be thriving. As a general election looms in two days time, British theatre is playing its part in the national political debate in a significant way. Written by Andrew Dickson for The Guardian, Judi Dench and the anarchists: why British theatre has gone election mad explores the various plays that are placing the politicians under the spotlight and asking difficult questions. It comes as no surprise really given that theatre, by its nature, has a leaning towards the political left. In the article, Dickson talks to David Hare, the grand old statesman of political playwriting, who has spent much of his career exposing the dark underbelly of ‘the establishment’ in his work. Although focussed on Britain, Dickson’s piece is well worth a read, as he links back to the origins of western theatre in the civic ceremonies of 5th Century Athens.
Our theatre has always been a talking shop – and talking is still how we do our politics, especially during election season.
And now religion. Mark Lawson, also writing for The Guardian, has published an article, Dahling, you were divine: religion on the stage which explores why God remains a draw to theatre-goers. Obviously, in a country which still has an established Church, it is not entirely surprising that such representation happens. However, when that religion is in decline, the debate becomes very interesting.
Again I recommend a read of Lawson’s article. He dutifully traces the lineage of religious drama in Britain back to the incorporation of performance into worship which was first recorded at the time when Christianity was only 500 or so years old. Lawson goes on to document how religion was manifest on the english speaking stage in the 20th century, and given the inherent link between church and state (religion and politics, if you will) it is hardly surprising that David Hare also makes an appearance in this article with his seminal work, Racing Demon, which examined religious faith from a sceptical perspective.
I have to say though, when a society examines itself this acutely through its artistic culture, it often means there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.