December 2nd, 2011

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NT Live: Collaborators - A personal reaction

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I have now seen Collaborators twice - once at the National Theatre and once in the cinema (the Brixton Ritzy).

I have concluded that it will be impossible for me to write a proper theatre review of Collaborators; I can only write a very personal reaction to the piece, which is exactly what follows.

As a young person I was definitely a Marxist/Communist - the Communist Manifesto was my Bible, and I fervently believed in the equality of men, common ownership, an equal distribution of wealth, and the abolition of the rich/poor divide. I idolised the Soviet Union, was desperate to visit Russia and see Moscow, and was convinced that the Soviet Union represented the brave new world that I wanted to be a part of.

Then I started to find out what life in Communist Russia was really like for ordinary people. It was hard and cruel. There were food shortages. People were hungry. There were long queues for basic food stuffs and necessities, forget about luxuries. They did not have the material goods and possessions that we took for granted in the West. Compared to my life in the West, life in the Soviet Union was very harsh.

Then I read Orwell's Animal Farm and it appalled me - it was also a revelation. The idea that you could stage a Revolution, take back the farm, seize control, but then, over time, things would revert to what they were like before the Revolution because it was human (animal?) nature to abuse power and power corrupts. Far from making things better, the Revolution might actually result in a state of affairs worse than the one you started off with, that you had been so desperate to, and had fought so hard to, change.

Like the Iranian film "Goodbye" which I was lucky enough to see as part of the London Film Festival, what Collaborators drives home to me is what it is like living in a climate of fear, under a tyrant and a dictator. What it is like not being able to say what you think and not being able to write freely. Living under a regime where, as a writer, you could be "banned" and your works destroyed and branded as subversive, meaning no one is permitted to read your writing. Living under a regime where you fear the knock on the door, and where you could be taken, imprisoned and even killed for no reason, other than you were expressing your thoughts in your writing. Living under a regime where people just go missing and never come back.

I will be honest. I was born and brought up in England, and I have only ever lived in England, and so I have absolutely no conception what living under such a regime would be like, or how it would make me feel. I hope that I never have to live under that sort of regime, in fear of my own life and fearing for the lives of my family and friends.

What I wanted to say was this, and it is addressed to a lot of people in Britain who take our freedoms for granted, and actually abuse them in a myriad of ways. Please recognise and appreciate that you are very lucky to live in this country, in a Western liberal democracy. Many people across the world are not so lucky and have to live under oppressive regimes with no rights and no freedoms, in a climate of fear, in terror of their lives. Many of them come to England because they see it as a "sanctuary".

Please appreciate and value the many freedoms that we have as British subjects/citizens - principally freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of movement. As a British subject/citizen I can think, say, do and go where I want; many people around the world cannot.

There endeth the sermon of Raks!

If you want to read a proper review of Collaborators follow the link below, which has links through to the reviews in the Telegraph, the Evening Standard and the Guardian:
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In the Night, In the Dark, by Roger Johnson

Roger Johnson, the Editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal, has got a new book out. Roger was far too modest to tell me this himself. I found out completely randomly through reading a write-up of the recent event where Roger interviewed Anthony Horowitz, the author of the new Sherlock Holmes novel "The House of Silk", at the Btitish Library.

I do not have Roger's book and I have not read it but I am going to recommend it because Roger is an excellent writer and I love reading his writing both in The Sherlock Holmes Journal and The District Messenger. He has also been very supportive of me and my blog, so I am returning the favour!

You can buy Roger's book here for £9.24:

Cut and pasted from the Amazon website:

Tales of phantoms, demons and alien gods, including all the stories from the out-of-print collection A Ghostly Crew: Tales from the Endeavour, winner of the Dracula Society's Children of the Night Award for 2001.
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The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

On Wednesday 30 November, I attended an event at St James's Church, Piccadilly, chaired by Lucy Winkett (Rector of St James's), where Philip Pullman and Chris Rowland discussed Blake’s argument with the Bible. The event was held to celebrate Blake’s birthday and the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible in 1611.

I am a HUGE Philip Pullman fan and His Dark Materials is one of my favourite books of all time (His Dark Materials is, of course, a trilogy). I have been on Philip Pullman's trail for ages, but I have never got to see him live or hear him speak before this event because his talks have always clashed with some other commitment that I have on.

I LOVE His Dark Materials and all the companion books, but I have not read much else of Philip's work. However, in preparation for this discussion and Q&A, I read "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ". Embarrassingly I am going to have to admit that, because theatre and film have taken over my life this year, I have precious little time for anything else, including television, and so this is the ONLY new book that I have read this year (I have reread some old favourites, including many Canon stories). I have had the book itself for the best part of 6-9 months but it was only because this event was coming up that I finally prioritised reading it.

All I will say is that I loved "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ". It is a very short and simple book, very easy to read. What it gave me was a good overview of all the Gospel stories relating to Jesus, with a new take/spin on them. It made me think. It proved once and for all how WHO writes history is critical, and also how history is often changed and reinterpreted when it is written. There is no such thing as a "true" history, all history is seen through the eyes of the person writing the history. I am thoroughly recommending the novel, to Christians, followers of other faiths, and atheists alike. Philip Pullman knows how to tell a good story and this book more than adequately shows that.

Buy it in hardback here for £9.14 (this is the version I have):
Buy it in paperback here for £6.59:

Cut and pasted from the Amazon website:

This is a story. In this ingenious and spell-binding retelling of the life of Jesus, Philip Pullman revisits the most influential story ever told. Charged with mystery, compassion and enormous power, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws fresh light on who Jesus was and asks the reader questions that will continue to resonate long after the final page is turned. For, above all, this book is about how stories become stories.

'A supreme storyteller ... Pullman has done the story a service by reminding us of its extraordinary power to provoke and disturb.' Telegraph

However, His Dark Materials is better - way better - so, if you have not read that, read that first as a priority!