Mixed Media: ‘Children of the Sun’ & ‘BermudaTriangle Test Transmission Engineers’
Children of the Sun
The Maxim Gorky play Children of the Sun directed by Howard Davies was performed last year at the National Theatre in London.
The play captures the unease and violence of what the historian Lionel Kochan called the ‘dress rehearsal for revolution’ in Russia in 1905. Gorky wrote the play while imprisoned for accusing the Tsar of the massacre of 1,000 workers on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in January 1905 outside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. For Kochan ‘this was the spark that set alight the flames of revolution. In all social groups revolt flared up. By the end of January nearly half a million workmen were on strike. The professional intelligentsia joined in.’ A ‘soviet’ in St Petersburg ‘formed of some 500 delegates elected by about 200,000 workers, represented the peak of working-class achievement. It was a spontaneous creation. But it was a lesson in revolution, not the revolution itself’.
The Children of the Sun are a group of privileged, self-absorbed, middle class intelligentsia who are floundering and philosophising about the world, who sense revolution is in the air but lack vision, energy and dynamism. Geoffrey Streatfield is amiable as Protassov, the ‘student of natural science’ who is prescient about the role of science in the future but blind to romantic advances, and the philandering around him. Protassov’s sister Lisa played by Emma Lotfield is anguished by the harsh reality of the suffering peasantry while his wife Elyena played by Justine Mitchell knows something is wrong, of the need for action, and embodies the revolutionary spirit.
When the play had its premiere at the Moscow Art Theatre in October 1905, the atmosphere was tense, and ‘the audience panicked when they mistook the arrival of the protesting workers at the end of the play, for a real demonstration entering the theatre from the streets’ (Cynthia Marsh). Stanislavsky wrote that the role of the Moscow Art Theatre was ‘not a simple private affair but a social task. Never forget that we are striving to brighten the dark existence of the poor classes.’
Gorky’s father was a joiner, and Tolstoy called Gorky ‘a real man of the people.’ Gorky had worked as a skivvy in a shoe shop, in a bakery, as an errand boy, a stevedore, a dishwasher on a River Volga steamer, and a railway night-watchman before educating himself and becoming a jobbing journalist and a Marxist.
The 1905 Revolution was suppressed with 14,000 people executed and 75,000 imprisoned. Gorky wrote ‘our sick society will not become healthy until the sources of light, beauty and wisdom have become accessible to everyone.’
BermudaTriangle Test Transmission Engineers
The Bermuda Triangle Test Transmission Engineers (BTTTE) are the live performance extension of a trio of sound artists: Melanie Clifford, Howard Jacques and Nick Wilsdon who produce the BTTTE radio programme for the London radio arts station Resonance 104.4 fm. Last October BTTTE presented their Little Red Set: ‘dialectical cabaret in song, sound and exquisite hope’ at the Club Integral at the Grosvenor pub in Stockwell, South London.
BTTTE sang in Magyar Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek (Cold Winds are Blowing), a Hungarian folk song, the music collected by Zoltan Kallos in 1969 in Ördöngösfüzes in Mezoseg, today in Romania. The folk song is a prisoners’ song, a yearning to be free, to break the chains of oppression, reminding us of the Magyar working class attempts at controlling their own lives in the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic or the 1956 Hungarian revolution which was crushed by the Russian Army.
The Song of Investment Capital Overseas written by Chris Cutler and Fred Frith of Avant-rock group Art Bears in 1980 is a satire on capitalist globalisation: ‘I empty villages, I burn their houses down, I set up factories, Lay out plantations, And bring prosperity to the poorer nations.’
BTTTE sang in German Epitaph 1919: Die rote Rosa written by Bertolt Brecht and set to music in 1928 by Kurt Weill as The Berlin Requiem: ‘Red Rosa now has vanished too. Where she lies is hid from view. She told the poor what life is about, And so the rich have rubbed her out.’ Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was murdered by Freikorps troops during the Spartacist working class uprising in Berlin in January 1919.
The Spanish El derecho de vivir en paz (The Right to Live in Peace) was written by Chilean folk singer Victor Jara who was murdered in the coup which overthrew the Allende government in 1973.
They finished with The Internationale written by Eugène Pottier: ‘if these vultures disappeared one of these days, the sun will shine forever, this is the final struggle, let us group together and tomorrow the Internationale will be the human race.’ It was written during the 1871 Paris Commune, of which Edouard Vaillant wrote: ‘If socialism wasn’t born of the Commune, it is from the Commune that dates that portion of international revolution that no longer wants to give battle in a city in order to be surrounded and crushed, but which instead wants, at the head of the proletarians of each and every country, to attack national and international reaction and put an end to the capitalist regime.’