Culture Reviews: ‘Che and Violence ‘, ‘Capturing the Smoke’

Che and Violence

Dirty Market are a theatre collective based in South-east London who have adopted bricolage techniques for their productions, and their most recent Be Good Revolutionaries took place at the Oval House Theatre in Kennington, London. The sources for Be Good Revolutionaries are the last letter of Che Guevara to his children, Crime on Goat Island by Ugo Betti, and  Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children.

Be Good Revolutionaries is set in the claustrophobic world of a jungle hideaway in Latin America in 1967 where a rebel leaders wife Anna (a formidable performance by Juliet Prague), and her two daughters and one son live. Into this world comes a stranger who appears to know the long-lost leader. The stranger is a ‘Martin Guerre’ character who intrudes like in the Betti novel, but his presence is disastrous like in a Roman Polanski film.

Be Good Revolutionaries is reminiscent of Brecht’s Mother Courage where the devastating effects of war are portrayed, and Brecht points out the utter blindness and futility of those hoping to profit by it. Dirty Market have adopted Brechtian techniques for this production, demonstrating the ‘estrangement’ effect by using singing and music to interrupt or comment on the action. This is memorably performed by musician-singer Rebecca Thorn.

The production is noteworthy for the design by Susan Sowerby of the Mexican ‘los dias de los muertos’ artwork, ‘ofrenda’ shrines, skeletons and ‘calavera catrinas’ which give the performance the necessary ‘latin’ American ambience. This is augmented by the choreographed movements of the children, a soundtrack of flutes, Rebecca Thorn’s accordion, gunfire and helicopter rotors which bring to mind Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Christopher Bruce’s modern ballet Ghost Dances which featured the Chilean folk of Inti Illimani. Be Good Revolutionaries is evocative of the music of songs like the Cuban ‘Guantanamera’ and Victor Jara’s Chilean anthem ‘Venceremos’.

Che Guevara’s last letter to his children contained fatherly advice in the shape of “Grow up into good revolutionaries”, “Remember that it is the Revolution which is important” and a reminder that he was “a man who acted as he thought best and who has been absolutely faithful to his convictions”. Since the 1960’s, the famous Che image has been thoroughly ‘marketed’ and exploited by western capitalism. Che was captured and executed in 1967 in Bolivia where he was attempting to export the Cuban revolution, and conduct a Maoist “protracted peoples war”. This play includes the line “People have to die for change” and a glorification of “revolution”. Such romanticising of violent insurrection, and armed struggle is fundamental to Trotskyists and Leninists but all minority violent revolutions devour their own children.

Although Cuba is very popular with the Left, it is a one-party state, there are political prisoners, no freedom of the press,  no right to strike, price controls, goods rationing, a constitution based on the USSR,  a planned economy in the USSR ‘state capitalist’ mode, and essentially there  is ‘commodity nature of production’, and therefore is not a socialist society.

Capturing the Smoke

Another London – International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980 – Tate Britain

The 180 photographs in the Another London exhibition are selected from the collection of 1,400 photographs of the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection. The 41 photographers in the exhibition were all from abroad, visiting London as tourists, or as part of their employment, or were refugees from Nazism and eventually settled permanently in Britain. The photographs are evidence of a rich tapestry of life in ‘The Smoke’ during the twentieth century.

‘Class’ is a significant factor portrayed in these photographs from Brandt’s Housewife – Bethnal Green 1937 and Susditzky’s East End Street 1934 to the series of photographs of the working class in Brick Lane, Spitalfields 1976-78 by Luskacova.  People in the Knave of Clubs Pub, Club Row 1976 is revealing in its depiction of East Enders sense of camaraderie although at first glance the photograph could be from the 1930s. The various changes in capitalism in Britain in the intervening 40 years had done little to change the economic status of working class in the East End.

Photographers also captured the ruling class at work and play in Hoppe’s 1937 London Stock Exchange – Typical Young Businessman to the military in The Queen’s Guards 1960 by Erwitt. The photograph of the 1959 Queen Charlotte’s Ball by Cartier-Bresson is of the Débutante’s Ball where daughters of the Aristocracy ‘came out’ at the end of the ‘Season’. ‘Debs’ were presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace right up to 1958 when it was deemed an archaic social practice. The ‘Debs Ball’ ended in 1997 but since 2009 has been re-established for the daughters of wealthy capitalists as well as the Aristocracy.

Erwitt’s photographs of British Railways Logo on Train and Male Passengers in 1st Class Compartment (1950’s) highlight the fact that although the railway was nationalised in 1948 BR still operated a ‘class system’ of compartments for first, second and third class passengers. Third Class was abolished in 1956, and second class was only re-designated as Standard Class in 1985.

There is an evocative photograph by Willy Ronis of Gaston Berlemont’s Pub, The French House, Soho 1955 which reeks of tobacco smoke, booze and bohemianism (well-known poets/artists and drinkers Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Francis Bacon, and Malcolm Lowry frequented the hostelry). The iconic photograph of the Beat Girl with Kitten 1960 by Bruce Davidson conjures up the mysteries and delights of youth on the cusp of adventure at the beginning of the ‘swinging sixties’.

Neil Kenlock’s photographs of the Afro-Caribbean community illuminate a radical political side to the black British experience:Demo Brixton Library 1972 shows placards stating ‘All Police are Pigs’ and ‘Off the Pigs’ while the 1970 Black Panther School Bags portrays just that.

Davidson’s Conductress 1960 epitomises the period covered in the exhibition. This world of the sounds of ‘slam door’ trains, Solari departure boards at rail stations, Routemaster buses, and Gibson ticket machines is gone forever.

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