Sand and Glass by Derek Martin (Yale College, Wrexham)
There can’t be too many occasions these days when socialist ideas are brought to an unsuspecting public by performance arts students in a College of Further Education. In fact there are not too many occasions when socialist ideas are directly introduced to theatre audiences anywhere, by anybody at present. So for this reason alone, Sand and Glass – a new play by Derek Martin – stood out like a beacon.
As the programme notes make clear, the inspiration for this play was the attempt to establish a moneyless, co-operative community by the Diggers in 17th century England. The plot revolves around an attempt by a contemporary media company (fast disappearing up its own backside in the hunt for something original amongst the postmodernist slurry) to film a Digger-like community living on a desert island. To complicate matters this community (known as ‘The Commune’) is being invaded by imperialistic Taliban-like forces (the “Taheri”) intent on appropriating the land and turning Commune members into something akin to feudal serfs.
The Commune members speak a version of English shorn of its possessive and individualistic language, not even having a word for “I”. Their names reflect their roles in the Commune – Mend is the doctor, Relay the journalist, Digger a land worker, Stanza a poet. With the men imprisoned by the Taheri all the Commune members on show are women.
One of the most fascinating scenes is when Tell (naturally enough, the teacher) initiates a discussion amongst Commune members to explore why the sneering members of the media company filming them have no conception of a how co-operative society could work without private property and exchange. When this leads to an explanation of how people in ‘Western Globeland’ are only allowed access to something provided they have something else to give in exchange for it – and of how they are hunted by “detectors” and kept in small rooms on their own should they transgress this rule—the other Commune members are incredulous. In the Commune, barter, money and crime are alien concepts. Work is undertaken when necessary and goods and services are freely accessed whenever needed.
As the play develops, matters take a vicious turn. Assaulted by the Taheri and manipulated by the visiting journalists, the Commune are eventually forced into a defence of their entire social organisation, both intellectually and physically, leading to a moving series of scenes as the play reaches its climax.
The performance is a powerful one throughout and the play ends with a memorable call to the audience by the female Commune members to rise up against private property and its dehumanising forces as “cynicism is a sin . . . and we have a world to win!”.
It is apparently hoped by the playwright that other theatre groups and venues will be interested in performing or hosting the play in coming months. Though there is always the usual caveat to be mentioned with depictions of somewhat primitive, pre-capitalist societies such as this (with inevitable, unfavourable comparisons of at least some of their features with the modern industrial age) this is most certainly a play that deserves a wider audience. Indeed, for its depiction of the corrosive elements of contemporary capitalism and its call to a better, co-operative future we can only say the wider the audience, the better.