Paddy O’Connell, the ubiquitous presenter of BBC radio programmes from R2 DJ-ing to R4 News is one of my broadcasting heroes. There is something genuine about him that makes its way through the sound waves and seems to come straight from the heart. But this morning he made me jump off my pillow and nearly spill my tea in alarm when he stated – relating to the Vice-President-Elect Pence’s visit to the theatre and his being booed and called to account by the cast – that ‘Theatre should be a safe place’ – I think he was quoting rather than opining – I hope he was quoting rather than opining – because theatre has never been a safe place. Theatre, with its live performances that change every night, has always been somewhere anything can happen, anything can be said and where – of all the arts – it requires courage – the playwright’s courage and the performers’ courage to speak out.
Our theatre is firmly rooted in the Greeks, and Oh Boy those Greeks were not averse to stirring up trouble on the stage and pointing the finger at their leaders. Aristophanes, the Father of Comedy, never held back. Anyone who has seen one of the Satyr plays (squashed in between comedy and tragedy – and as vulgar and anti-politician as you could wish) will know that the theatre was never designed to show so-called good manners. Here’s what Aristophanes thought of politicians: ‘You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner’ or, just as scathing, ‘Under every stone lurks a politician.’
I’d like to send you a short story, for free – you just need to tell me where to send it