Sheila Yeger's musical biog of James Keir Hardie was warmly received by its opening night audience – but, with Tonys Banks and Benn in the house, it was unlikely to be otherwise.
The "house style" of songs (with music often Weill-like, though less memorable) and vignettes results in much of the information being pre-digested: Hardie's womanising is given an airing but ultimately comes over as little more than a peccadillo, his illegitimacy only alluded to in the best possible artistic taste. Yeger squares her "authorised" narrator Jack Clubley off against the questioning, cynical anger of Rose Britannia, but Rose's abrasion is too reliable – she has the air of Viz meets a ...For Beginners book.
Nor are we allowed to forget that we're watching the show in 1992, in a fourth Tory term (though we're all sound – "none o' us voted 'em in, did we?"). Rather than imbuing me with determination, though, the juxtaposition just made me despair; Hardie's early line, "A day will come when liberalism will be dead and buried in Great Britain," resonates cruelly today. Call me a pessimist, but both celebration of, and agitation for, the politics of caring need more fire.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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