Women, Power & Politics
Tricycle Theatre, London NW6
Opened 11 June, 2010
It’s all very well to relish our reputation as butchers, but there are times when a negative reception is genuinely damaging.  It’s not simply a matter of closing shows (following near-universal panning, The Fantasticks closed before our reviews could be reprinted).  In 1997, when I was playing at performing comedy on the Edinburgh Fringe, I was persuaded to do a spot at the notorious Late & Live... but even before I knew I’d be doing it (and that’s no exaggeration), word had been leaked out and comedian Dylan Moran had gathered a posse of comedians all keen to give a critic the same short shrift as they felt we gave them.  The fact that I myself had never written a word against them was irrelevant; it was a matter of what I was.  The non-stop baying for my blood made that the most menacing night of my life, and I grew up in Belfast in the 1970s.


But there is an a possible example far closer to hand.  As some reviews – those written with longer lead times – note, the artist and poseur Sebastian Horsley was found dead on the afternoon following the opening night of Dandy In The Underworld, Tim Fountain’s stage adaptation of Horsley’s autobiography.  Word has it that he had been agonised and horrified, not by what Tim had done with the material, but by the unsympathetic way in which he was coming over as a character; by most accounts, Horsley was much more considerate and solicitous than his barbed epigrams suggest.  An inquest has not yet been held into his death, which appears to have been from a drug overdose. 

It’s difficult to write about Horsley’s death in this way without seeming to fuel the rumours and generally appearing ghoulish, but… oh, look, even that “but” looks suspicious.  Various plays reviewed in this issue deal with or touch upon a Dunblane-type school massacre, the Lockerbie plane bombing and even Jack the Ripper, but when something so grievous touches a production directly, we are reminded that theatre is only ever a simulacrum of real events; if there is even a chance that it may have become part of those events themselves, we feel more unsettled than we would be by the grimmest drama onstage.


As T.S Eliot wrote, “Humankind cannot bear too much reality.”  The Tricycle’s Women, Power & Politics season corroborates that view, in more ways than it perhaps intended to.  Fiona Mountford notes in her review a remark by former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith about “a Parliament in which more MPs are called John than are women”.  It is, in my opinion, the most powerful single line in the entire collection of plays and supporting material.  It was even true when Harriet Harman originally said it following her arrival at Westminster after a by-election victory in 1982.

In the current House of Commons, however, women MPs outnumber Johns, Jons and Jonathans by more than five to one.  (I have to admit that I became fleetingly obsessed with the figures behind this claim, spending some time totting up the numbers from Wikipedia’s lists of MPs in recent parliaments; I can report that the turning point came in 1992, when the 1987 parliament’s slight majority of Johns became a roughly two-to-one preponderance of women.)  Now, it is without doubt a matter at the very least worthy of further examination that Britain can muster a mere 22% of MPs who share the same sex as 51.4% of the population; but surely there are enough real reasons for deploring this state of affairs without having to fabricate new ones or attempt to perpetuate obsolete ones.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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