Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Thatcher's Children / BEATS - Platform 18 2012 at The Arches

If Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government and its heirs had had 
their way, there would be no such thing as society, community, and 
quite possibly the two pieces of theatre that are this year's winners 
of The Arches Platform 18 award for new directors and theatre makers. 
As it is, both Gary Gardiner's tellingly named Thatcher's Children and 
Kieran Hurley's response to the Criminal Justice Bill, which 
effectively criminalised rave culture, BEATS, combine historical 
significance and a renewed political pertinence for a younger 
generation who've discovered protest for themselves with renewed 
activist vigour.

While Gardiner's piece sets up a mock Houses of Parliament in which a 
series of authoritarian speakers explore the legacy of Thatcher's 
ideas, Hurley puts a live DJ onstage to explore one of the most absurd 
laws in history, which made gatherings of people listening to music 
with repetitive beats effectively illegal.

“I wanted to make something about young people gathering en mass,” 
Hurley explains, “and I was attracted to the free party scene that 
existed during the late 80s and early 90s. There was an apparent 
apoliticalness that existed in that culture in terms of a clearly 
defined politics, and yet, someone somewhere in power was so threatened 
by it that they passed this law. So I wanted to explore what is that 
strange, seemingly unharnessed potential of young people en mass, but 
also what it is about the world of power is so afraid of when young 
people claim space of their own. What is it that they find so 
threatening? We've become used to villainising young people through the 
riots and so forth, but that time is such rich terrain, and it's so 
relevant to what's happening now.”

Gardiner concurs, albeit by seizing a very different means of 

“I'm really interested in the idea that's come into play over the last 
few years about living in an enterprising society,” he says. “ The 
language of innovation is very prevalent at the moment. It's a really 
interesting shift in culture, and I wanted to trace those ideas, and 
found myself on the trail of Thatcher and her implementation of ideas 
of neo-liberalism, free markets and competition. There's something as 
well about Thatcher and absolutism and her image as an iron lady, and 
this idea about being the lowest of the low is somehow to be weak in 
her eyes. Now she's got dementia, she's become weak and feeble, and is 
now everything she despised.”

While this sounds like similar terrain to Meryl Streep's big-screen 
portrayal of Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Gardiner's take on things 
sounds infinitely less schmaltzy. Hurley too hasn't attempted a 
site-specific re-enactment of the era he's looking at, but is 
attempting what he describes as a story-telling piece, albeit one using 
the technical aspects of a club night.

Significantly, perhaps, Gardiner was born in 1979, the year Thatcher 
was swept into office. Equally pertinent, Hurley's birth-date goes back 
to 1984, a year significant not just for its Orwellian heritage, but 
for what looked like a brutal prophecy of a very English civil war. 
Still flushed with  her second term landslide a year before in the wake 
of the Falklands War, Thatcher and co took no prisoners, be they they 
striking miners, a still leftist Labour Party or else what right wing 
conspiracy theorists dubbed the 'enemy within'. These are things that 
the society Thatcher claimed didn't exist are still recovering from.

“She changed things forever,” Gardiner observes. “We can't be anything 
other than Thatcher's children. Once you've accepted the economy as an 
essential part of policy-making, I can't see a way of moving out of 

Both Platform 18 works arrive onstage at a time that looks closer to 
the early days of Thatcher's reign than ever before. With the global 
economic downturn creating more unemployment by the day, a by-product 
of this has been more direct political engagement. Crucially, this has 
not been via political parties, but through a grassroots underbelly 
that is coming increasingly to the fore.

One ongoing example of this has been the response to the Scottish 
Government's amendments to Public Entertainment Licenses, which became 
law on April 1st. This new legislation now requires all free events to 
operate with a license where  none was required before. While aimed 
primarily at  unlicensed raves and firework displays, the wording 
potentially affects all DIY events, and has
  already seen Highlands and Islands Council attempt to charge a 
community group a three-figure sum to hold an Easter egg hunt and 
bonnet-making competition.

As with the Criminal Justice Bill of old, it has been the grassroots 
rather than the big institutions that have led the fight. Hurley points 
out other parallels.

“From that systematic attempt to persecute a particular subculture, 
many people were radicalised,” he says, “and that in turn informed the 
shape and culture of political protest  right up to where we are now. 
DIY art activism is a really important thing, and the space between 
what is a party and what is a protest becomes really blurred.”

Sounds like a riot.

Thatcher's Children / Beats, The Arches, Glasgow, April 17-21; Traverse 
Theatre, Edinburgh, April 25-28.

The Herald, April 17th 2012


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