Thursday, 26 May 2016

THE EU REFERENDUM




The Grand Canal. Marilyn and I had a lovely few days in Venice.  Travelling freely around Europe is brilliant.  


On the 23rd June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom will go to their local polling stations and vote on the EU referendum. Do they want the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union or do they want them to leave?

This question has split our political parties.
The Conservatives, who are in government at the moment, lead by David Cameron, are going through the process of a particularly nasty and vicious struggle between members of their own party. UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence party) lead by Nigel Farage, are vociferously cheerleading the exit group. Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have divided opinions. The in fighting in those two political parties appears to be less destructive than within the Conservative party though. 

A recent series of polls produced by ICM (ICM Research, is a public opinion researcher) for the Guardian reveals that overall, the British public are equally split over the referendum. Phone polling, which is the most accurate form of research because the people  are chosen to be a cross section of society taking into account age, ethnicity, gender, social status, work and location. Internet polling seems to be age biased towards a younger group. With internet polling there is no control over the factors that phone polling can take into account. Internet polling proved to be wildly inaccurate in our last general election. Both polling strategies were used in this recent poll by ICM. It showed that in their phone poll 47% were in favour of remaining in the EU, 39% were in favour of leaving and 14% were undecided. Internet polling showed 43% in favour of remaining, 47% in favour of leaving and 10% undecided. If however you take into account all possible variables the picture looks pretty much as though the British public are split half and half. This is a little worrying because it could go either way. There does not seem a big lean one way or the other which is creating tensions in our economic dealings and indeed it is causing tensions throughout Europe. Businesses do not know where or when to invest. It is hampering growth at the moment. Hopefully this is going to be a short term situation which will be clarified when the referendum has been voted on.

Why is a referendum being held? Our Prime Minister, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum if he won the 2015 general election, in response to growing calls from his own Conservative MPs and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who argued that Britain had not had a say since 1975, when it voted to stay in the EU in a referendum. The EU has changed a lot since then, gaining more control over our daily lives. Immigration issues, questions about sovereignty, questions about democracy and being in charge of our own economic destiny are all issues being hotly debated connected with this issue. Mr Cameron said: "It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics."






Emily, Abi and Marilyn enjoying a walk around La Guell, Gaudi's park in Barcelona.
One of my most favourite places to visit in all of Europe.

David Cameron negotiated with the European Council in Brussels and came back to the British people with changes to our membership that he thinks warrant us remaining in the EU because they deal with some of the worries people have in Britain about being members of the EU.



These cover, firstly child benefit. Migrant workers will still be able to send child benefit payments back to their home country - Mr Cameron had wanted to end this practice - but the payments will be set at a level reflecting the cost of living in their home country rather than the full UK rate.



Secondly there is the question of migrant welfare payments. Mr Cameron says cutting the amount of benefits low paid workers from other EU nations can claim when they take a job in the UK will remove one of the reasons people come to Britain in such large numbers (critics say it will make little difference). He did not get the blanket ban he wanted. New arrivals will not be able to claim tax credits and other welfare payments straight away - but will gradually gain the right to more benefits the longer they stay, at a rate yet to be decided.



British people want to keep the pound. Mr Cameron has said Britain will never join the Euro. He secured assurances that the Eurozone countries will not discriminate against Britain for having a different currency. Any British money spent on bailing out Eurozone nations that get into trouble will also be reimbursed.



There is also the question of the large financial sector we have in the City of London. Mr Cameron has negotiated safeguards for Britain's large financial services industry to prevent Eurozone regulations being imposed on it. 



Finally, for the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move towards "ever closer union" with other EU member states - one of the core principles of the EU. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a "red card" system for national parliaments making it easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought. Critics say it is not clear if this would ever be used.

 
Robert Clive, Clive of India negotiating with a Moghul.


Britain and trade have always had a close and fruitful relationship. We are an island sea going nation. The ability that Britain had for enormous growth in trade goes back to the late 1600s. Compared to other European countries such as France, Spain and the Netherlands, which were our trading rivals at the time, Britain appeared to have a much larger middle cl,ass which had a facility for commerce and a desire to settle in new continents. They had the education and wealth to get things done. Merchant ships went to North America and the West Indies. The triangular trading system was born. Slaves would be brought from Africa to the Americas to work on the plantations which grew sugar and cotton and other commodities. These were then shipped back to Britain. In turn these commodities boosted the growth of industries for processing the commodities. Ship building, industrialisation, with its accompanying technological inventions and agriculture, which created a parallel revolution, all boosted Britain as a world power and trading nation. To go with this the City of London became a great financial centre financing this growth alongside new developments. The loss of part of the Americas through the American Revolution was a setback but after the Napoleonic Wars when Britain was the victor and France and Spain were defeated Britain looked to the Far East and India and China and their trading strength and wealthy expanded enormously. All this was facilitated by a powerful Royal Navy policing the oceans and protecting our far reaching trading routes. The British Army in turn based around the world protected Britain’s interest on the land. Robert Clive (born 29 September 1725 – Died 22 November 1774, known as Clive of India, famously fought wars against the various states that had been formed in India after the Mughal Empire. His defence of Arcat and his great victory at Plassey are amongst his military achievements as commander in Chief of the East India Companies army. The British relationship with India was complex and it was highlighted by a series of wars that continued from about 1766 right up to 1849. The British became the dominant power in India. This provides an example of how trade, and the military are closely linked. Trade and wealth, when we think of the British annexation of most of India demonstrate that military might and trade go hand in hand. This was also mirrored somewhat in China over the tea trade. The Chinese tea trade with Britain in the 1720s onwards eventually lead to the Opium Wars.  Military might cemented Britain’s dominance as a trading nation. We can think of the recent wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the consequent terrorist and ongoing military threats and wars. They are seemingly attached to religious, political causing terrorist concerns but they are also about oil, and trade. The disastrous involvement of America, Russia, Europe and every country in the world, to some extent, shows the need to be part of the changing world landscape so they can all get their share.

So through expansion of trade by the use of continuous wars and military might, Britain in the 18th century, became the most dominant, powerful and wealthy nation in the world.

 
The trenches of the First World War

During the 20th Century Britain experienced two world wars. The First World War came about because of a number of factors that developed in the decades before 1914. Mutual defence pacts had been agreed between various nations. Britain had agreements with France, Belgium and Japan for instance. Imperialism was an aim for various nations. Britain and France were the big Imperial powers at the time and Germany worked hard to catch up. Africa and other areas in the world were places where rich resources could be obtained to make the European nations strong and wealthy. Germany, France and Britain certainly did not want to let the other gain pre-eminence. Britain had a large navy and army and Germany wanted to match this because world trade can only be viable with a strong military element enabling it to happen. The comments about Britain in the 18th century previous to this section demonstrate that. There was also a strong element of Nationalism present at the time. All these elements were in place leading up to the First World War. It only took one incidence to ignite the gathering forces, the powder keg and this was created by the Serbian crisis. So the First World War had come about because of clashing self-interests and the continent split along its alliances. The Second World war was no better. Germany had been crushed and impoverished after The First World War. Clemenceau for France and Lloyd George for Britain had demanded stringent reparation from Germany. This created a fertile ground for nationalism and the growth of the Nazi party which offered the German people their self-respect back and a strong dominant future again in Europe. Would these terrible things have happened if all the countries of Europe had worked together and all been closely allied? The fact that those with strong alliances did work and go to war alongside each other against the opposing factions might give us a clue.



The history of the EU, the European Union, has been precipitous since the end of World War II. Straight after the war efforts were begun to forge a political union throughout Europe. In 1951 the European Coal and Steel Union (ECSC) was formed. By 1957 the ECSC ratified two treaties, the European Atomic Energy Community ( EAEC) and the European Economic Community (EEC). The purpose of the EEC was to eventually remove all trade tariffs and other barriers between member states. This was established by 1967. The first member states being Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemberg and the Netherlands. A rival trade group, EFTA, was established between Austria, Denamrk, Britain and couple of other countries. In 1961 Britain had wanted to become part of the EEC but Presdinet De Gaule of France refused to let Britain in. Britain wanted special dispensations so that they could still have close trading agreements with the Commonwealth Countries and De Gaule saw this as against what Europe wanted as a whole. By 1973, Britains trading links with the Commonwealth countries was not so strong and along with Ireland and Denmark they joined the EEC. Gradually, as the 20th century progressed other staes joined the EEC too. The EEC expanded in 1981, 9186 and again in 1995.The Maastricht treaty of 1992 brought  the member states even closer together through monetary union with a single currency the Euro. The name of this economic group changed also to the European Union, the EU. Banking and foreign policy too became unified. Britain did not join the monetary union at the time but promised to look at the possibility at a later date. It looks now as though this will never happen. In 2004, most of the members of the old Soviet bloc joined the European Union. So the European union has grown enormously and trade and movement of labour has expanded. There are now twenty eight countries in the European Union.The EU is the world’s greatest trading bloc with no barriers to trade between its member states. This has obviously caused  stresses and strains within this system. There are large economic differences between member states. This has caused a one way flow of workers trying to get jobs in the more affluent countries. This in turn has a put a strain on the social services, education and health systems of those countries. Britain’s renegotiations, under David Cameron, have tried to deal with these issues and it is those sort of issues the exit campaigners are emphasising in their campaign. There are also questions about democracy and sovereignty because of decisions  being made for member states in the European Parliament outside of member states. There are also questions about free speech and other freedoms we expect in a democracy but those issues are more to do with terrorist threats and right wing religious and political movements.


Political and economic migrants making their way across the Mediterranean.


These questions about migration and immigration, freedom of speech and democracy are debates we should always be having. They are important issues which need to be dealt with. What is democracy in this day and age? What is freedom of speech when we have ISIS clerics standing up in Mosques preaching hatred and destruction to the west? We have to think about this and analyse what free speech means and what democracy means. How can we deal with economic migrants and migrants who are fleeing from their own countries in fear of persecution and even death? Places like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have been destabilised by western forces so how much should we now contribute to helping them?

 
David Cameron arguing to stay in Europe. I am not a conservative voter but I agree. We must stay.


It is easy to say, like the Brexiters, those wanting to leave the European Union, that we would be far better off leaving the EU. We could negotiate our own trade agreements. We can make our own laws and we can be truly democratic again. We could control our own boarders better and so the arguments go on. It all sounds ideal. However, in the light of how trade really works around the world through military power plays and economic might, how do we really think Britain on its own is going to deal with China, Russia, India, the South American countries and so on? What sort of great trade deals are we going to be able to negotiate on our own? It’s easy to look back at our history and say we did it in the past. We were then the world’s greatest military force. If we did leave the EU and other unhappy countries did start to leave also what might that mean? Is it possible alliances and the re-emergence of power struggles within Europe could happen again? That sort of thing caused two world wars not that far back in time in the great scheme of things. The EU is not perfect but it is the best trading bloc we will ever be a part of. Its strong links between countries make it a safe place politically or much safer than it has been in the past. Europe has been a peaceful place for a lot longer than it has ever been before since the second world war. Europe needs working on and adapting and improving for all member states. The best thing, I think is for us to stay and work together on all these issues. They will need to be worked on continuously, forever,I should think, but things will change within the union.






Thursday, 5 May 2016

SHAKESPEARE IN TEN ACTS a review.




Vivien Leigh as Titania in Midsummer Nights Dream performed at The Old Vic
With bated breath, on Saturday 16th April, Marilyn , Abi and I, we bear a charmed life by the way, put our best foot forward and went up to The British Library to see the Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. Shakespeare breathed his last in Stratford upon Avon at his home, New Place, on the 23rd April 1616. This year is the 400th anniversary of his death. As good luck would have it, The British Library has created a wonderful exhibition to commemorate his death. Arguably, come what may, Shakespeare is the greatest writer this brave new world has known.  Before I continue, I hope Shakespeare addicts who peruse this article will not accuse me of plagiarism. It must be a foregone conclusion that I have already  used the Bard’s very own words a number of times. Actually we can’t get away from Shakespeare. He introduced so many common place words and phrases into our vocabulary, we use them all the time without even realizing what we do. They have become household words. (Ha! Ha! there I go again. Didn’t even realise it.) So far in this introductory paragraph, I have quoted Shakespeare countless times already. I have done it consciously as you probably realise . I will continue this article though without consciously trying to quote the Bard but I am sure I will. Please don’t be too critical, to write this successfully I can’t get away from him. (and yes, I have quoted him again in the last two sentences.) He’s everywhere in nearly everything we write or say !!!!!  The words and phrases are there in his plays. It is his plays and his written words, that the library has turned to to explain Shakespeare’s enduring importance and greatness. The exhibition begins with a display showing a first folio edition of thirty six of his plays collected by two of Shakespeare’s friends, John Hemynges and Henry Condell and published in 1623 seven years after Shakespeare died. Before 1623 and during Shakespeare’s lifetime, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had been published in quarto editions. Wothout Hemynges and Condell we may never have had some of Shakespeares plays passed on down through the centuries to us today. The folio edition frontice piece shows the picture of Shakespeare we all know, a slightly balding fresh faced gentleman with wide open eyes staring out of the page straight at us. The exhibition explains Shakespeare in ten iconic productions of his plays over the centuries that have been milestones in his popularity.
The first folio edition. Thirty six plays collected by John Hemynges and Henry Condell.

I was introduced to Shakespeare at a very young age. There was obviously the mere act of speaking to start with. We can’t get away from Shakespeare. At school, Macbeth, the Scottish play was the first engagement with one of Shakespeare’s plays we had . Being educated in a catholic school in Southampton we were all used to engaging, rather vividly, with concepts of the conscience, confession, the ten commandments, guilt, God, the devil, hell , good and evil and Macbeth has all this in abundance. We were in our Roman Catholic element. Macbeth is powerful stuff and we learned the witches chants and spells avidly. Lady Macbeths wringing her hands, “out damned spot,” the making of her confession and trying to get her soul clean , resonated with  our guilty Roman Catholic consciences  , and how! Later on we were taken to see Macbeth at Stratford upon Avon on a day trip from school. The school six formers created a production of Macbeth for us all to participate in too. We were imbued with Macbeth. Later I saw Peter Brooks 1970, production of a Midsummer Nights Dream at Southampton Gaumont when it toured the country. That production is one of the ten important productions featured in the ,”The Ten Acts,”at the British Library exhibition. Over the years I have seen a number of Shakespeares plays on stage and on film. Some of the most memorable are of course Macbeth at Stratford, and A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Gaumont but also Henry IV part one at the Mermaid Theater at  Puddledock  in Blackfriars next to the Thames in the City, As You Like It, at The Globe Theatre on the South Bank, Lear at The National, Midsummer Nights Dream, recently at The Rose Theater, Kingston upon Thames with Judy Dench playing an aged Queen Elizabeth I. I have seen, Hamlet  at Stratford. Leonardo de Caprio’ s Romeo and Juliet and Orson Welles, Macbeth, come to mind as powerful incarnations of the bards works on the screen. We all of know of course, once more, Laurence Olivier’s, Henry V. There is the brilliant adaptation of Romeo and Juliet,West Side Story, too.

There were believed to have been 750 copies of the first folio printed. 234 of them are known to have survived. The British Library has five copies. The first folio is one the rarest books in the world and is sort after. Recently at the library of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute a copy that has been in the library’s collection for a hundred years was confirmed as authentic by Professor Emma Smith of Oxford University. After seeing this rare and precious edition of the first folio we were introduced to quarto versions of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published individually in quarto form in his lifetime. Some are better than others. Some believe that publishers plagiarised the texts from the official theatre prompt books. Some say that they were written from the memory of people who attended performances of the plays. This process lead to inconsistencies meaning that some of the quartos are of reasonable quality but some are poor bastardised versions of the plays. Condell and Hemynges, the publishers of the folio edition, contested the validity of many of the quarto versions of the plays. But still, seeing these original volumes showed us what people of Shakespeare’s time would have seen and read. Being able to see the folio edition is a special moment. It is a connection with Shakespeare himself. We are only permitted to see with our eyes. Touching would be destructive. The folio edition is something from the past for us now to see but also for  future generations.
Shakespeare as he appears in the title page of the first folio.

The first of the ten plays that were important to creating Shakespeare’s legacy is the first Hamlet performed at the Globe Theatre in about 1600 in Southwark on the South Bank. Revenge was common in a lot plays written at the time and most were bloodthirsty but Shakespeares Hamlet was more cerebral. He wrote to the strengths of the Lord Chamberlaynes men, later the Kings Men, of whom Shakespeare was shareholder. He wrote a part specifically for his friend Richard Burbage. Making Hamlet appeal to the audience’s minds linked the life experinces of each member of the audience with the characters in the play. There was empathy. Through theatre people could now act out in their own imaginings their own real problems whether they be thoughts of revenge or other human issues.

During the winter months, the Kings men performed in the Blackfriars theater, the ancient refectory of the Blackfriars situated just south west of St Pauls Cathedral.  It no longer exists but you can walk through the narrow streets that still retain the Medieval street pattern to this day. You can see the location of the old monastery gatehouse that Shakespeare bought as his London home. You can still see the site of the graveyard attached to the monastery and plaques showing where the Blackfriars Monastery was located. Also you can still walk into the courtyard where the Kings Wardrobe was. Shakespeare and The Kings Men borrowed or hired costumes from The Kings Wardrobe to wear as costumes for their plays. The Kings Men played at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 1609 onwards during the Winter months and at the open air Globe Theatre during the Summer. The indoor atmosphere created by the Balckfriars theater, a candlelit space, caused Shakespeare to write plays that made full advantage of the indoor location by , “using magic, music and spectacle.” Shakespeare wrote The Tempest to take advantage of this more moody, enclosed atmosphere of the Blackfriars Playhouse.
Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford upon Avon.

On the 5th September 1607 The Crew of the Red Dragon, an East India Company ship, reputedly performed Hamlet off the coast of Sierra Leone to an audience of African guests. It takes a moment to think about that. Hamlet was performed to Aficans in Africa during Shakespeares lifetime. During the 1600s, because of travel and trade Shakespeare’s plays were already being performed outside of England. There was institutional sexism against women who performed on the stage during Shakespeare’s time and women were played by adolescent boys. However, on the 8th December 1660 the part of Desdemona in Othello was played by a woman. She was introduced as a novelty and her name was not recorded. Later in the 18th and 19th  century women did act on stage but very often they were thought of as no better than prostitutes. By the end of the 18th century Shakespeare was greatly revered. David Garrick had promoted Shakespeare. It was a time that Shakespeare was so revered, forgery became a temptation. In 1795 law clerk, William Henry Ireland astonished his Shakespeare father when he discovered a cache of Shakespeare documents. Including King Lear, Hamlet and an unknown play called Vortigern. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane snapped up Vortigern. It was performed on the 2nd April 1796. The performance was ridiculed and Ireland’s documents were exposed as forgeries. In 1825 Ira Aldridge was part of the African Theater in New York and performed Shakespeare. The actors were treated appallingly by the authorities and beaten badly. Aldridge came to Britain in 1824 and acted in Britain for over 40 years. He was the first black actor to play Othello. By the end of the 17th century Shakespeare was considered old fashioned and many of his plays were rewritten to suit the times. For instance King Lear was rewritten by Nahum Tate in 1681 giving Lear a happy ending. In 1838 William Charles Macready reintroduced Lear’s fool into the play and got nearer to the original although even Macready’s version was still an adaptation.
The site of New Place in Stratford where Shakespeare lived the last years of his life and died.

Closer to my heart is the 1970 Peter Brook’s Midsummer Nights Dream, staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was 18 years old. Peter Brook took the production on tour, a run of a limited number of theaters before decamping for the USA.  I saw it at Southampton’s  Gaumont Theater. It was incredible . I was at an impressionable age!  A minimal white stage,   that enhanced the simple geometric shaped costumes of poster paint colours. A character was either yellow, blue, green, white and so on; very simply attired. Swings and ropes helped characters ascend , descend and fly. I remember being thrilled by this bright vivid production. I remember being awestruck after the play had ended when outside the theater I saw the characters of Bottom and other mechanicals appear out of a side door to the theater  in their ordinary clothes and line up outside a nearby fish and chip shop to buy some fish and chips. My friends and I stood and stared at them. It was slightly surreal as indeed this production was. The production had a hippie element to it, combined with its minimal stage, costumes and acrobatics. It was a production that really fitted ,”the age of Aquarius.” Peter Brook showed what can be done and how each generation can interpret and learn from Shakespeare.
A scene from Peter Brooks 1970 production of A Midsummer Nights Dream.

More recently, in 2002, the acclaimed actor Mark Rilence, whilst director of The Globe Theater on the South Bank returned Twelfth Night back to what Shakespeare would have known using the music and costumes of Shakespeare’s time. He also made it an all male cast with women played by men. Rilence was trying to inject some authenticity into Twelfth Night making a connection with Shakespeares time.
Mark Rylance in the 2002 production of Twelfth Night at The Globe Theatre on the South Bank.

And most recently, "the tenth act" and so tenth play that demonstrates how Shakespeare is for all times, an adaptation of Hamlet in 2013 by The Wooster Group. They have created a Hamlet that uses modern technology to connect productions  of Hamlet from past generations with a Hamlet of today.It was first performed I the USA in 2007 and more recently at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013. The live performance used digital technology to combine its live performance with the film of Richard Burton's 1964 Broadway production. Other footage of Hamlet films were combined into the production too. It must have created a layered effect of multiple interpretations. This could only have been achieved now in this digital age. As technology progresses we can only wonder what the future will bring.

In one final exhibition case, there is displayed the delicate bejeweled and flowered headdress Vivien Leigh wore as Titania in the 1937 production of A Midsummer Nights dream at The Old Vic. The exhibition poster, not over cool, the exhibition book, available for our perusal and the exhibition guide,which can never be described as too much of a good thing,  use the picture of Vivien Leigh wearing this head piece, on their front cover. Vivien Leigh does indeed look like a beautiful dream. This exhibition is superbly curated and presented. Swift as a shadow it leads us through the various key moments in the development of Shakespeare over the centuries through various productions and interpretations. It shows us Shakespeare in ten acts just as Shakespeare shows us his dramatic stories in a series of acts.  A superb exhibition. From first folio to electronic wizardry. It  is however that First Folio that  is so important to us today enabling us to discover what Shakespeare intended.

To finish with a dramatic flourish, all's well that ends well.