Rod’s Blog 31.10.12
I hate Halloween – or rather what the American imperialists have done to it. ‘Trick or Treat’ is nothing to do with ‘Mischief Night’ as we called it when I was a kid. It was good fun but without the aim of grabbing as many ‘treats’ as you can. My four and six year old are manic with excitement about tonight – and what’s great is that it’s the dressing up and walking about in the dark that’s exciting them. Unfortunately the bags of cheap sweets are also a factor. I understand that I sound like a kill-joy, worthy, puritanical, self-righteous prig, but ducking apples and games around the house such as Murder in the Dark were really fun and there was no motivation to use the night to extract stuff from neighbours – on the threat of a ‘trick’. I am dressing up a bit though – a bit.
Ella and I are going to see Chumbawamba’s final ever UK gig at The City Varieties and there’s an invitation to dress up along the theme of Mexican Day of the Dead. Don’t get me wrong – I love dressing up – if someone really skilled at costume design finds it all for me and I just put it on! What I loathe is the responsibility to be creative and make a costume. We went to a Wild West 40th birthday party the other week and I tried, honestly I did – I had a Stetson on and wore a checked shirt. All I got was, ‘That’s pathetic! You miserable old git. You’re supposed to be good at this stuff – you work in theatre’. Exactly. I work in it – doesn’t mean to say I have to play in it too! Ok – I admit – the room was full of guys in ponchos with fake moustaches and one guy had flashing chaps – and my checked shirt and Stetson was a bit half-hearted. But tonight I will wear skull make-up – badly applied – so if you recognise me, just accept that I am too busy making theatre (and selling a tour – which believe me is like pulling teeth) to get all excited about dressing up!
So – two paragraphs in and if you’re still reading you have considerable stamina because all I’ve done so far is gripe about stuff. So now for a round-up of what is going on in Red Ladder land. As I mentioned above, I’ve been booking the national tour of Ben Tagoe’s new play ‘The Thing About Psychopaths’ and although it has been really frustrating at times – we are beginning to firm up a pretty good national tour with gigs in Dundee Rep, The Byre St Andrews, The Brunton, Musselbrough, Dunfermline, Bolton Octagon, Sheffield Crucible, Hull Truck, Colchester Mercury, The Lowry, Bury, Barnsley, Halifax and opening in Leeds Carriageworks on March 7th. There are other one night gigs dotted about. I am also excited about the possibility of the tour ending in a brand new theatre in London called The Park. The Park, run by Jez and Melli Bond is not just a refurbished building (like The Arcola) it is a completely new theatre with two spaces – a 200 seater and a 90 seat studio. The best case scenario is that this becomes Red Ladder’s London home and we build up an audience who look forward to us bringing our work there.
As soon as we have the final tour agreed, it will go on the website and then we start the mammoth job of getting those gigs into the local ether making audiences spend their last remaining £10 of the week on a ticket to see our show! I was in Hull the other week making a piece of theatre with undergraduates and on one rainy morning (in Hull you ask? Surely not!) I booked a taxi to take me in from my digs in the leafy suburbs (champagne Socialist). The taxi driver was great. He ranted on about how, even ten years ago, he had disposable income so he could go out for a drink. Now he’s “just a slave” and “that’s all they want from us – to work our arses off until we’re 68 then to drop dead so they don’t have to pay us a pension…” I couldn’t really get a word in edgeways – so that shows what a good ranter he was. His rant inspired me. The working class need to get that angry and they need to spill that anger into direct action against this shower in power.
On the 20th October I travelled down to London with my comrades from Unite the Union for the TUC march against austerity. It was good to march with at least 150,000 others through the streets from Embankment to Hyde Park – it’s always good to feel that you have several thousand like-minded campaigners. I always enjoy the section of the march that goes through Piccadilly and watch the horrified look on rich tourists’ faces as they walk in the opposite direction carrying their shopping bags full of cashmere and gold. My good friend Dan Bye met me for a pint and he made that very observation: rich Spaniards or Greeks escaping the rioting in their own countries only to face a more polite version in England! I don’t normally stay for the speeches in Hyde Park – they usually frustrate me with how weak and ineffective the speakers are – but this year the mood was different. Trade Union leader after Trade Union leader called on the assembly to show support for a 24 hour General Strike to be warmly cheered and applauded. Then Ed Miliband stood up and had the audacity to warn that a future “Labour” government would have to ask us to face “difficult decisions”. I was delighted that the crowd gave that a huge boo and he was jeered loudly. But then his very next ‘promise’ was to reverse all Tory legislation privatising the NHS – which was loudly applauded. Two things: it is really useful for Miliband to be booed by a trade union audience – it tells the middle class voters, the people he really wants to woo, that he is not a ‘loonie Leftie’ -so it’s a Blairite attempt to curry favour with both his doners and the working class Tories who call themselves middle class (kidding themselves that their big credit card limit makes them part of the affluent and moneyed classes – there won’t be many of them left after the Tory cuts). The second thing is this: Miliband’s promise to reverse the attack on the NHS will be too late and too ineffectual – once it is privatised it will be lost forever. The NHS is the biggest organisation in Europe – rebuilding it would cost trillions – no government can commit to that. The Tory policy is one of slash and burn – and Miliband knows it – his party started it. So even though people at the Durham Miners Gala glared at me for booing Miliband (they were there to be faithful to the Party) I really believe that his days are numbered – and unless we can start to reclaim the Labour Party for truly working class voters the party will fizzle into obscurity.
Still reading? Good. Well what’s next? I am about to spend two weeks teaching at Northern School of Contemporary Dance and I’m going to use that to research a piece of dance theatre based on the Ceridwen myth from The Mabinogion. Yes – that’s what Chris Lloyd my producer said “The wha…?” Essentially the piece is an exploration of how we behave in our relationships and how ‘love’ can often become a power struggle. There’s a potential piece of political feminist dance theatre in there – and I’ll let you know if I find it.
Finally – tickets are on sale for our run of ‘Sex and Docks and Rock & Roll’ at The City Varieties Music Hall in the week beginning January 21st. If you missed the show in 2010 it’s a good night out – and because Dean Nolan is unavailable – he’s playing Harold in Kneehigh’s ‘Steptoe and Son’ – you can see me perform a very different Ronnie Mc Dermott – no less larger than life and also in my vest and underpants. Oh …that just put you off. Can you close your eyes until my trousers go back on?
About Rod: Rod became Artistic Director of Red Ladder Theatre Company in 2006, following his role as associate director at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth. He has also ran The Hub Theatre School in Cornwall and been an actor with several companies including Kneehigh Theatre. Directing credits for Red Ladder include Where’s Vietnam?, Forgotten Things, Riot, Rebellion & Bloody Insurrection, Ugly, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll, Big Society! and Promised Land. Rod is both a life-long Liverpool supporter and a believer in Proudhon’s principles of anarchy – the two might be connected.