Watching Michael Moore's show reminded me what I think of Americans
This month, the Roundhouse, recent venue for RSC spectaculars, is home to the American phenomenon Michael Moore. Seeing Tony Benn perform his "set" at the Young Vic was surreal enough, but entering the damp, circus-twinkle of the Roundhouse to hear George Bush and Tony Blair slagged off was even stranger.
First of all, there's the difficulty of creating a "set" for political performers. The production team had kept things minimal here, with an office on one side of the stage and a vast, scruffy La-Z-Boy on the other. All eyes, though, were instantly drawn to the four vast pictures at the back of the stage: a group of young men were grinning down at us. There was George W Bush, unmistakable with his baseball cap and yeehaw expression. Next to him was a swimming Saddam, far less of a bogeyman without his uniform. Then there was the photo puzzling the Americans behind me.
"Well, that guy at the end, the hippy with bad teeth, that's gotta be Blair, but who's the other, the Asian-looking kid?"
Listening to Americans being thick in public has the same effect on me as my computer crashing or letters from Haringey threatening legal action when my council tax is eight days late. I want to strip wallpaper with my bare hands. It took them a while, but eventually the geniuses got there: yes indeedy, the "Asian-looking boy" was none other than a youthful Osama.
Then we had Michael Moore. Seeing him in the flesh is a shock because that sharp mind lies trapped within the flesh of your average beer-swilling redneck. He shuffled on to stage to cheerful applause.
"Eight pounds fifty an hour to run into a burning building - could I offer you 50k an hour to do that?" It was day one of the firefighters' strike and around a third of the audience had failed to make the show due to Underground closures. There was cheering and shouts of "fucking right" from one or two.
But what we all wanted was war talk from America's most outspoken critic of the Bush regime. Instead, we were teased for almost an hour with tales of Moore's radio appearances with "some guy named Portillo" and a real weirdo who called himself the "drugs tsar, Keith Hellawell". Apparently, Hellawell leant over to Moore during the radio programme and whispered, "Osama Bin Laden is alive, you know!"
Next came a college fraternity song. Turning to the pictures behind him, Moore growled the tune "When You're Smiling" but changed the words. To Saddam: "When you're killing, when you're killing . . . the whole world kills with you." To Bush: "When you're dumb as shit . . ." The rest of the song wasn't quite funny and wasn't quite clever. I felt myself turning into a Euro-snob. Was I a fan of Moore in print mainly because I could imagine him not being American?
The show relied on some pretty hit-and-miss gimmicks. Such as calling on the FBI to turn in "a man squatting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, DC" and the game show Stump the Yank. In the end, the strongest part of the show came when we were dared to "re-enact" being a passenger on one of the doomed 11 September flights - while Moore waved a Stanley knife at us. Why didn't a crowd jump on the hijackers? Why did "we" all just sit there? Because "we" are the comfortable class, "used to having somebody else take care of us, clean up the air pollution from our cars, collect our rubbish . . . waiter, waiter!" His conclusion: that the men on the final jet acted only when told via mobiles they were definitely going to die.
Back on the rainy London streets, an American student spoke into his mobile: "What was it like? Yeah, Moore was good!" He paused for a moment: "But I didn't like him . . ."