Myth of the far-left agenda in Alastair Beaton's Caledonia
Steve Cramer's Festival blog
This article is from 2010.
In my last blog, I accused many of the companies engaging in the Fringe of lacking courage, and I’m sticking by it. You can always tell when there’s a political elephant in the room at a fringe, since invariably the more pusillanimous companies visiting Edinburgh will choose to converse endlessly about such matters as violent sexual practices or paedophilia. They condemn these things with such passion that you’d think the rest of us disagreed with them. Given the tone of such productions, you might expect the average theatre goer, passing through the foyer before you, to loudly threaten to write to the papers and complain that some avant garde theatre company was daring to suggest that women shouldn’t be beaten, children shouldn’t be molested and foreign girls shouldn’t be sold into brutal prostitution. I’m reminded of Tom Lehrer’s comment: "You’ve got admire these folk singers; they have the courage to stand up and fight for the things the rest of us are against, like freedom, justice and equality."
Yet there has been a shining exception to this rule of the non-discussion of the crisis staring us in the face, in the shape of Alastair Beaton’s Caledonia. It seems to me surprising that the show has been so widely condemned. Many a critic has shown discomfort with the politics of the piece, which, through the uncannily resonant historical parallel of the collapse of the Scottish economy after the failure of privately financed, government guaranteed attempt to colonise the Isthmus of Panama, presents an anatomy of the current economic malaise of the UK. What’s fascinating about some of the reviews is that many a contributor seems to have been deaf to the raucous laughter that boomed through the auditorium on the press night, claiming for the play a lack of humour entirely belied by the audience’s response. There were, no doubt, a few rough edges to Anthony Neilson’s production, but the energy, humour and relevance of the piece seemed to be more of what the audience noticed.
Perhaps a scrupulous examination of reviews tells another story, more about intolerance of dissenting political views than any aesthetic considerations: The Daily Telegraph critic accused the play of having a "far left agenda". Was this really the case? My encounter with the taxi driver who brought me to the show saw me exposed to a series of alarmingly reactionary views. From the need to bring back hanging, he progressed to a perspective on multicultural society that would leave Himmler with a twinge of conscience, and rounded off with a venture into foreign affairs where the suggestion that the Israelis bulldoze Gaza into the sea was floated. I hadn’t managed a contribution to this conversation so far, such was the rapidity of his discourse, and was beginning to wonder whether Sarah Palin had given up politics to take on a new career in drag as a hairy-backed Edinburgh cabbie, when he paused for breath long enough to ask what show I was heading for. The beginnings of my explanation were drowned out by the violence he swore against our bankers for their irresponsibility in landing us in debt we would never see our way out of. These far left liberal intellectuals – will we never be free of them?