Diary - Alistair Beaton
They claim Lord Goldsmith left my play at the interval. Still, he will have heard the actor playing
I find myself in Copenhagen to discuss a Danish production of Follow My Leader, my play about the Iraq war that recently ran at the Birmingham Rep and the Hampstead Theatre. I'm frankly astonished that other countries are interested, because I wrote it from a very British point of view, focusing on the Blair-Bush relationship and the big lies concocted in London and Washington to help persuade us to go to war. But it turns out that many Danes are equally incensed about their government's modest participation in the so-called coalition. Similarly uncanny parallels recently made Feelgood a surprise hit in Denmark (as well as several other countries). Dealing as it did with spin, the play was renamed Spin Doctor by the Danes. The politicians themselves - including cabinet ministers - turned up in force to see themselves being traduced on stage.
This was very different from my experience of the original production of Feelgood in London. I can't say I was heartbroken that Blair and his friends failed to trot along to the Garrick Theatre to see it. In some countries, satirists are jailed; in Britain, they're given tea and gongs. Not being anxious for either jail or gongs, I decided that I probably don't write the kind of plays that people in power wish to see. Imagine my astonishment, then, when I got a call from the Hampstead Theatre a few weeks back to report a sighting of Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, at a performance of Follow My Leader. To my great joy, I am told that he left at the interval, but that would have been enough for him to have heard the Prime Minister (ingeniously impersonated by Jason Durr) musing as follows:
"I got my UN resolution all right. Good old 1441. But it doesn't have the wording I wanted. It doesn't say unequivocally that we can attack Iraq if they don't comply with the resolution. Although I can probably argue that it means that. Or I'll get the attorney general to argue it. Yes, probably that's a better plan. He's a very obliging man."
Anxious always to check my facts, I asked the New Statesman to ring the attorney general's office to ask for confirmation that Lord Goldsmith had been at the Hampstead Theatre to see that particular play (well, the first half of it, at least). After some delay, a spokesperson primly reported back that, since this was "not a departmental matter", they had no comment. Which seems an odd reaction to an innocent inquiry. So though I can't swear that the attorney general was there, I do suspect he was. I certainly hope he was, because it's not every day that a humble playwright gets to talk to power.
While I'm in Copenhagen my publishers send me a copy of the proofs of my satirical novel A Planet for the President, to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in September. Checking proofs requires time and calm, both of which prove to be in short supply during my stay in the Danish capital, so it is with trepidation that I send the proofs back to London and take a plane to Germany.
Having a play running in Nuremberg provokes predictable witticisms from British friends and colleagues about rallies and trials and so on, but it turns out to be an interesting experience. Seeing a play you have written performed in another language in a theatre you have never visited before can be surprisingly illuminating. Unlike in Denmark, where I listened to a torrent of largely incomprehensible sounds on stage, this time I speak the language, and so can make a better judgement about the production, which turns out to be rather good. But what interests me is not so much the production as the audience. People are so young! I look around and estimate that around 50 per cent of the house is composed of under-21s. Here is the audience that one dreams of getting in London's West End. The failure to get them is partly a question of ticket prices, but there's definitely more to it than that. At the Staatstheater in Nuremberg, there's a buzz and an excitement in the air, a palpable pleasure at being there. Why young Germans should take such keen pleasure in a political comedy, I don't quite understand. Maybe it's because, traditionally, German theatre divides the serious from the frivolous, and here is a play that combines both.
As I return to Britain, I find myself being lectured to by Tony Blair about the failure of values caused by the swinging Sixties. The smiling Christian who runs the country from his Downing Street sofa is apparently much concerned about people who do not "play by the rules". Tony is, he assures us, on the side of "the decent law-abiding majority". I wonder briefly whether I have had too many in-flight drinks: my plane has been redirected back to Denmark and I am actually in the midst of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. But no, I really am back in Britain, where the leader who preaches about rules is also the leader who daily defends his decision to launch a war in breach of international law. The attorney general told him otherwise, of course. Or maybe he didn't. We're not allowed to see the evidence.
Anyhow, it's time to move on, and rejoice. Time to forget about the lies and the doctored dossiers and worry instead about yobs and drunks and feral children. After all, that's where the votes are, isn't it? Well, maybe. Personally, I'm still more worried by feral prime ministers than I am by feral children.