TRYING IT ON
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Friday 8th June, 2018
At the grand age of 70, playwright David Edgar turns performer for the first time in this self-penned piece that blends autobiographical material and interviews with fellow activists, people who were active (for want of a better word) in the student movement of 1968 and beyond. A survey of the political landscape of the past fifty years, a potted life story, and history lesson, the play’s didactic elements are leavened by humour and theatrical devices: Edgar converses with himself at age 20 via a voice from an antiquated cassette player; ‘stage manager’ Danielle Phillips upbraids him for his shortcomings, his dated language, his previous dismissal of feminism… It’s a searing attack that Edgar takes on the chin – the left has always been prone to bickering and in-fighting. Indeed, the Labour party today is chronically divided, even if it has veered away from socialistic ideals and is squabbling over centrist pursuits.
It is a cliché that people become more right-wing as age withers them. It is shocking to realise that the hard-won changes in legislation regarding race, gender, and gay rights were fought for by the same generation that largely voted for Brexit. What happened to them? Surely it is more than the ageing process? Edgar attempts to enlighten us on this point and it’s a s sobering as it is entertaining. He’s an engaging presence, seemingly effortless in his fascinating discourse. The altercation with Phillips creates tension – this is no cosy lecture – and we are made to think for ourselves and our own position, as the world turns backwards and the progress we have made is threatened with erasure.
There is a lot to take in and ruminate over here. It’s amusing, insightful and dismaying all at once, although there is a sense that Edgar is preaching to a choir of liberals, people who willingly and regularly attend the theatre and regard it as an arena for social commentary and change. Perhaps we will be shaken from our comfortable complacency, our classical music and our Waitrose cuisine, and take up the cause to continue the fight before the political gains we have made are lost. This is in addition to the long way we have still to go.