Friday, August 26, 2011

Panic by Archibald MacLeish

Panic by Archibald MacLeish, directed by Andrew Holmes, School of Cultural Inquiry, College of the Arts and Social Sciences, at ANU Arts Centre. August 18-20, 25-27, 2011. Free entry.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 25

The purpose of a doctoral study is to research an original topic in the hope of establishing a new understanding to add to a body of knowledge, and perhaps confirm or change the direction of academic thinking. Since this production is presented as part of Holmes’ PhD studies, my first question is “Is there anything new about it?”

For me there was. I had long been aware of MacLeish as a poet, but I hadn’t thought of him as a significant playwright – or even as a playwright at all, to be honest. Yet he won a Pultizer prize for J.B. in 1958 (my first year at Sydney Uni) which ran for 364 performances on Broadway, directed by the key to American theatre of that time, Elia Kazan. While Martin Esslin calls Panic, with the lead played by Orson Welles in 1935, “a sophisticated agitprop drama of the Wall Street crash” – of 1929, of course; not 2008. What had I missed? And why?

The why is easily explained. My 1950s Anglo-Australian background only took a few American playwrights seriously: Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. If I looked for social criticism I saw Bernard Shaw. For agitprop I thought of Bertolt Brecht. Should I now include Archibald MacLeish?

Perhaps the 1992 advertisement for Archibald MacLeish: An American Life by Scott Donaldson. (Houghton Mifflin; 622 pages; $35) suggests not:

“THIS year marks the centenary of the birth of Archibald MacLeish, one of the most unusual figures in 20th-century American letters and a man who prospered at both poetry and public service. As this massive biography documents, nothing seemed impossible to him: he played football like a demon while at Yale; he was brilliant in debate; he practised law with panache after graduating from Harvard Law School; he wrote some of the finest lyric poetry of the century and he transformed the Library of Congress from a dull but worthy repository….” (

So what was it that made Andrew Holmes want to focus on MacLeish, rather than plays such as O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920) or The Great God Brown (1926), or indeed Bernard Shaw’s The Apple Cart (1929) or Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui written in 1941 in Helsinki while waiting for a visa to enter America?

The answer has to be, the poetry.

Verse drama in its modern form goes back to the Romantics: The Cenci by Shelley was written in 1819, but was first presented publicly on stage in London in 1922 (after a private production in 1886 attended by, among others, Bernard Shaw). Shelley’s play was historical, about Beatrice Cenci of the late 1500s. MacLeish’s play is set in his own time, in the Great Depression when, by 1933, 21 US States had closed all their banks and Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a four day Bank Holiday throughout America and began his “fireside chats” to keep the populace calm while the banking system was restored. The new aspect of MacLeish’s work was to take such a prosaic situation and write in the mode of Romanticism. Not exactly the style of a Brecht, nor even a Shaw or O’Neill, though one might see it as a forerunner of Tennessee William’s work.

So my second (and final) question is “Does Andrew Holmes’ production take us in a new direction?”

The poetry begins with words spoken by the common people in chorus with soloists, highlighting words like “closed”, “foreclosed”, “moratorium”, “McGafferty” – the “hero” who claims he will keep his bank open – and finally “death” as McGafferty “tragically” shoots himself. The reference in rhythmic form which goes back to the Ancient Greek – I was particularly reminded of Sophocles’ Antigone – is effectively done. There are references to the future as well. Keeping the American idiom, accent and phrasing must have been a considerable challenge for largely untrained actors, but the effect was almost like some parts of Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

But MacLeish keeps the chorus in its place, concentrating the action on McGafferty and his woman Ione (the relationship is undefined). Tony Turner and Christa Dejager stand out in these roles not just because they are the wealthy elite but because each of them used the verse to create individual characters and timed their interactions with the kind of staccato effect their side of the story required.

The Blind Radical, who I take as a Tiresius sooth-sayer figure, was played very effectively by Simon Thomson, reminding me especially of Lucky in Waiting for Godot.

In the end, as Holmes explained in the follow-up discussion, the story can be interpreted (and was when first staged) by Communists as a vindication of the failure of Capitalism, or by industrialists and bankers as a tragedy of a hero with a fatal flaw. I could not see the play as “sophisticated” nor as true “agitprop” since the story is simplistic, the economic and social issues are not made clear, and the characterisation is minimal, except – interestingly – of Ione, who clearly understands her role as support for the go-getting banker until she recognises the reality that he is done for. She leaves to look for other opportunities, while McGafferty suicides.

But the poetry works. Sound, rhythm and images swirl around, creating their own sense of chaos to suit the theme. There is something here worth attention for modern playwrights: perhaps we have lost the habit of using the sounds and structure of language as integrated elements in theatre, especially in “naturalistic” drama. So, I conclude, writing today does not mean going back to the Romanticism still wafting around MacLeish’s Panic, but we have a model in today’s hip-hop or rap rhyme, rhythm and strength of word choice. Steven Berkoff, do I hear? In the Australian context, Louis Nowra, Dorothy Hewitt and perhaps Stephen Sewell, as well as Richard Frankland as directed by Wesley Enoch in Conversations with the Dead?

And, noting that it is some time since university theatre was a regular feature of the Canberra scene, it is good to see the new ANU structure for Drama teaching providing support for the practical production on stage of work under study, and I trust the performance program will expand once again.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Destination Home by The Threads Collective

Destination Home written and performed by Camilla Blunden, Liliana Bogatko, Raoul Craemer and Noonee Doronila. The Threads Collective directed by barb barnett at The Street 2, Canberra, August 23-38, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 23

Four actors come together. Each began life somewhere else. Their stories gradually coalesce as each migrates to Australia. Their words and images are like short sequences from a documentary film which form a coherent picture only at the point where they perform their stories together on stage, in Australia, in Canberra, before this audience. The end.

The idea is interesting – certainly for a migrant like me with my own parallel story – but the writing is for the most part prosaic and the theatrical structure unexciting. Perhaps this is the result of the writers' becoming incorporated bodily and emotionally into Australia’s flat topography and culture.

The four stories represent multicultural reality in today’s Canberra. Camilla from Cornwall via London and Melbourne; Liliana from Poland via Austria and Adelaide; Raoul mixing India and Germany via London; Noonee from Manila via Melbourne. Each arrived in Australia at different ages on different dates in different decades, yet find they have similar experiences, dreams, confusions about their identity, while coming ‘home’ together in this work.

This is the positive value of Destination Home, especially in the face of those who decry multiculturalism as creating racial enclaves. None of these four have lost the ties to their original homelands, but all have stayed here. As Liliana puts it, “In Poland I am Australian; in Australia I am Polish” but there are freedoms here, despite the peculiar contradictions of Australian life, for which she stays. Each of them visit their England, Poland, Germany, India or the Philippines, but each has been changed by Australia and they cannot maintain the old relationships.

Despite sadness at the loss of the past, the final bow is a celebration, which the audience joins in, of simply being here to stay.

So the intention is valid, the motivation is genuine, while the theatrical expression is lacking. Raoul’s story is the most energetically played, while Camilla’s shows the greatest variety, but I see the work as still in progress, needing a good writer to work it up and for it to be performed by other actors. The work needs to be put at some distance from the original storytellers to create a drama with a clear sense of direction from scene to scene. As it stands, for most of the play the scenes seem too random, too amorphous, too evenly paced. I would take the script by the scruff of the neck, shake it about until it cries a bit, hisses back at me and tries to scratch with its claws out. Then I could drop it from a great height and watch it land on all fours and purr to everyone’s satisfaction.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vale Bill Hoffmann

One of the founding members of the Canberra Critics’ Circle, W.L. Hoffmann, OAM, died peacefully in his sleep at Ginninderra Gardens on Sunday August 21.

I had visited Bill the day before, but he was in a deep sleep from which he did not wake. He was 91.

Bill was, for a long time, Australia’s most senior music critic, travelling all over the country for The Canberra Times and filing reviews for nearly half a century. In his early days in Canberra, to which he came from Adelaide, he was the ACT Supervisor of Instrumental Music and director of the Canberra City Band, which he re-formed in 1947, after it had disbanded because of unemployment and lack of players in 1937. He was to run it for 30 years until 1976.

Bill was the Canberra School of Music’s original executive officer and recorded its formative years in his 1990 book The Canberra School of Music: the first 25 years, 1965-1990.

But it was for his Canberra Times critiques that he was best-known. Rain, hail or shine, Bill would always be there to review. He covered the first performances of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and the production of the (then) Australian Opera when it visited Canberra. He was, in the words of Canberra journalist Robert Macklin, “a man of almost magisterial forbearance” in his capacity to tolerate and review a wide variety of music, classical and popular. He also wrote about musical comedy for many years, a form that he and his wife Marge particularly enjoyed.

Until technological advances meant that Canberra Times reviewers began to file copy from home, Bill filed his reviews at the paper’s offices on several days a week and was a well-known figure in the editorial department. Sub-editors respected his ability to write “clean copy” which they rarely needed to edit.

Bill would never have given up reviewing but for his faulty knees. Lucid until the end, he told fellow Critics’ Circle member Bill Stephens and me when we visited him several months ago: “I didn’t have an operation because I never thought I’d go on so long.”

Helen Musa August 22, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011


Presented by The Australian Ballet,
Choreographer: Ai-Gul Gaisina after Petipa,
Composer: Ludwig Minkus,
Costume Design: Barry Kay
Set Design: Francis Croese and Scott Mathewson

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

(Simon Dow as Don Quixote with artists of The Dancers Company)

The Dancers Company is The Australian Ballet's regional touring arm. A mixture of guest artists from The Australian Ballet and graduating students from The Australian Ballet School, the company was founded in 1980 to provide senior students of The Australian Ballet School with touring experience. It also provides the Australian Ballet with a smaller company with which they can service regional centres.

Occasionally The Dancers Company's tours include Canberra, and while the National Capital can hardly be considered a regional centre, in the continued absence of any performances by the main company, these visits from The Dancers Company are very welcome indeed, demonstrated by the fact that this presentation was rewarded with two sold-out performances in The Canberra Theatre.

It proved to be a thoroughly captivating production of one of the most popular classical ballets in the repertoire,with its strongly rythmic music and combination of laughter, beauty, and silliness. The production was meticulously staged with attractive touring scenery, designed by Francis Croese and Scott Mathewson, and the splendid Barry Kay costumes from the original Nureyev production, which still look rather gorgeous even though they are now more than 40 years old.

(I must admit a great affection for these costumes having seen them first at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne in 1970 when Rudolph Nureyev danced Basilio, Lucette Aldous was Kitri, Sir Robert Helpmann was Don Quixote and Colin Peasley was an unforgettable Gamache. I saw them in 1999 when The Dancers Company performed "Don Quixote" in the Canberra Theatre with David McAllister and Madeleine Eastoe as Basilio and Kitri, and again in London in 2001 when Ross Stretton borrowed the production for the Royal Ballet with Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nunez in the main roles. The fact that they looked so spiffy on this occasion reflects great credit on The Australian Ballet's wardrobe staff).

A prologue neatly sets up the story and we follow the trials of the elderly Don Quixote, who, accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, decides to set out on a quest to find his perfect lady, the imaginary Lady Dulcinea.

The role of Don Quixote was played, quite beautifully, by Simon Dow, bringing a wealth of experience to the role. His Don Quixote is still "away with the fairies" and funny, but also elegant and definitely noble and rather kindly. Although the aura of the original Sancho Panza, Ray Powell, still inhabits the costume, the very much younger and sleeker Harrison Hall put his own delightful stamp on this role, even throwing in some startling acrobatics which Ray Powell would never have dreamed of attempting.

Following the prologue we meet the rest of the characters of the port of Barcelona. The lively and spirited Kitri (Ako Kondo), madly in love with the dashing young barber Basilio (Andrew Wright), and the vain, vacuous and very funny Gamache (Mathew Donnelly), the unwelcome suitor Kitri's father Lorenzo (Francis Croese) has chosen for his daughter. The efforts of the young lovers to thwart Lorenzo's intentions and escape the attentions of Gamache provides the grist for the rest of the ballet which over three acts involves a gypsy camp, Don Quixote's dream world, and finally the inevitable wedding day.

Choreographer Ai-Gul Gaisina, who herself has danced the role of Kitri in the Nureyev version, has stripped away most of the mime, leaving just enough to progress the storyline. Rightly for this production, her main focus is the dancing, and reverting to the original Petipa choreography she's created a succession of ravishing ensemble dances, solos and pas de deux which celebrate the luxurious expansive sweep of the Russian style, but with none of the affectation. Perfect for displaying the crisp, confident technique of the current crop of young dancers who performed it with infectious enthusiasm and absolute confidence.

Guesting from the corps de ballet of the main company, petite Ako Kondo was perfectly cast as Kitri. With her dazzling attack, wonderful jumps and effervescent personality she tantalized her father, was cheeky to her boyfriend, and had no trouble winning the hearts of her audience. It was a performance that clearly marked her as a dancer to watch.

Handsome Andrew Wright was very much her match as Basilio with his clean line, virile dancing and carefree disposition. Their grand pas de deux in the third act was brilliantly danced and generated genuine excitement, drawing cheers and sustained applause from the packed house.

Other dancers also impressed including Jasmin Durham, all attitude and passion as the street dancer, tall and graceful Hannah O'Neill as the elegant Dryad Queen, and Benedicte Bernet as the cute-as-a-button Cupid. Outstanding among the men were James Lyttle as the dashing Toreador and Joel Di Stefano as the lead Gypsy Boy.

In his speech following the first performance in Canberra, David McAllister, The Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet,expressed his pride in this production, and reminded us that in The Dancers Company we were witnessing the future of The Australian Ballet. Based on this showing that future is in very good hands.

(Mathew Donnelly as Gamache and artists of The Dancers Company)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre
3- 6 August

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Under the guidance of Ruth Osborne this progam of three dance works exploring themes of identity produced some of the most exhilarating contemporary dance choreography seen in the region this year.

Three professional choreographers interpreted the themes in works which were accessible, entertaining, technically demanding and requiring complex ensemble dancing. Each had its own compelling score composed by Adam Ventura, and impressive audio-visual effects devised by Bearcage Productions.

A noticeable lift in the confidence and skill level of the dancers was evident this year in their more assured interpretation of choreographic concepts, resulting in many genuinely thrilling moments.

For "The Land is Calling" Jodie Farrugia concentrated on Australia's migration history. Her large ensemble cast depicted fleeting images of early settlers, convicts and boat-people, to a moody soundscape and images of migration statistics projected on to a large screen behind them.

"Precipice", a beautiful, quite moving work by Adam Wheeler, used just 8 dancers to explore individual identity. Each dancer introduced with a pre-recorded voiceover musing on their anxieties, relationships and accomplishments. Sensitive partnering combined with the impressive technical abilities of the dancers made this piece a stand-out.

The program concluded in spectacular fashion with "Digital Face" involving an ensemble of about 30 dancers armed with imaginary cameras and computers, for which choreographer, Anton, clearly a master of large-scale
stage movement, devised a succession of dazzling, joyfully-danced episodes for his witty take on life in the technological age.

(An edited version of this review appears in "City News" August 10th-16th)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ursula Callus, honoured

We have been alerted to the naming of a street after a significant Canberra arts personality, Ursula Callus, honoured by the Canberra Critics Circle posthumously in 2002 along with the late theatre director David Branson and the sculptor Neil Roberts who, like Ms Callus, died unexpectedly during the previous year.

I was asked to comment on the suitability of this naming and of course spoke positively for it, but it occurs to me that we as critics should possibly become more pro-active in putting forward the names of deceased Canberra artists to be honoured in this way.  

Callus Street Ursula Marie



Community service Australian Capital Territory

Founder and administrator of the Canberra International

Festival of Chamber Music which encouraged world’s

best performers of chamber music to visit Canberra and

participate in classes for young musicians. Through her

vision and enthusiasm, the festival grew in seven years

from a local weekend event into a ten-day program with

a national focus.

We have also been advised of details below: Forde is located in north-east Gungahlin and the street names commemorate individuals who have provided significant service to communities in Australia. The site developer advises that public access to the new roads is scheduled September to December 2011, subject to weather and other delays.

As a legal instrument, the Determination notifies new street names with brief reference to their origin and significance. More extensive biographical information is stored electronically on the ACT Cadastre and after it is uploaded it will be available to the public through the following Place Names Search webtool by early next week:

Helen Musa

Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca

Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca, translated and directed by Iain Sinclair.  Sydney Theatre Company at Wharf 1, August 5 – September 11, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 8

Perhaps you expect me to write about Lorca, but this is more than adequately done in the program.  No, it is Iain Sinclair I must write about.

Thanks, Iain, for the poetry, the myth-making, for revivifying my memories of Lorca.  Thanks especially for Leah Purcell in the central role of The Mother.  “I believe very strongly in the Aboriginal spirituality. I believe in my ancestors and I believe that they have given me my ability to be a storyteller, a song woman, a performer.”  (ABC TV Australian Story 2002)

The first Act is the story leading to The Mother’s only surviving son, The Groom (Kenneth Spiteri), marrying The Bride (Sophie Ross) who rides off on The Horse with her first love, now married Leonardo (Yalin Ozucelik) before the wedding reception has ended. 

Act 2 is the search for the eloping couple in the forest.  The Groom and Leonardo stab each other to death, while The Bride, still a virgin, returns, expecting retribution and death.  But it is men who kill, not women, and the play ends leaving The Wife of Leonardo (Zindzi Okenyo), The Bride and The Mother all tragically bereft with no future beyond the “thick walls” of their peasant farmhouses.

The story has the epic proportions of Greek tragedy, and has a parallel in the Aboriginal story of the Two Wise Men and the Seven Sisters (A creation story from the WONG-GU-THA, people of the desert near Ooldea, South Australia, as told by Josie Boyle ). 

It has the metaphorical and sexual implications of blood, reminiscent of D H Lawrence.  It has the eerie faerie presence of death like the Irish playwright J M Synge’s Riders to the Sea and Deirdre of the Sorrows.  Lorca was clearly conscious of being one among the artists of his time, writing in 1933 of “Duende … This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duende he pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.”

So, true to Lorca’s art, Iain Sinclair’s production of Blood Wedding is not a dramatic retelling of the plot but an original creation of the mystery in the translation from the Spanish into Australian English, in the imagery of the Andalucian peasant farmers, in their music, rhythm and dance, and in the mysterious spirit figures of the forest.  The play takes on the mantle of all the ancient rituals of death and transfiguration, written only a few short years before Lorca’s own execution in 1936 by fascists as Franco’s regime re-established dictatorship after a brief period of a democratic Spanish republic.

Go to this production not as a spectator but to absorb all the feelings – of terror, of joy, of tragedy – that Sinclair makes available to you.  You may come away from Leah Purcell’s final scene shaken, out of complacency and into new understanding of the human condition.  Thanks, Iain Sinclair, for making my kind of theatre.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Life x 3 by Yasmina Reza

Life x 3 by Yasmina Reza.  Canberra Repertory directed by Garry Fry.  Theatre 3, August 5-20.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 6

It was interesting to find, even in a translation by noted British writer Christopher Hampton, how very French this play is.  Though at first blush it seems naturalistic, before long it becomes reminiscent of French-style absurdism in the manner of Eugene Ionesco.  It’s a comedy of the human condition, epitomised by drunk Ines in Act 2 insisting to her astronomer husband, “We are not insignificant!”

Reza’s writing is demanding.  The same scene is played three times: a couple arrive for dinner with another couple, a day early.  Their hosts are completely unprepared.  Each replay is not an exact replica, because each of the four characters start from and end up at different points in trajectories which their personalities could have followed.

Scene 1 and Scene 2 end in emotional disaster.  In Scene 3 the characters make valiant attempts to be more civilised and reach what, at least superficially, seems an OK compromise.  After Scene 1, a psychologist friend was ready to be called in for marriage counselling.  By the end of the play, she thought she wouldn’t be needed.

For the actors, Peter Holland (Henri, whose academic career makes demands he is afraid he cannot meet), Megs Skillicorn (Henri’s wife Sonia, who has a law degree but works for a finance company), Sam Hanna-Morrow (Hubert, a successful academic who delights in putting Henri down while flirting with Sonia) and Debbie Newboult (Hubert’s wife Ines, faced with a husband she depends on for his social status) and for the director there is a great deal of fine detail to be worked through as each character is interpreted surprisingly differently in each appearance.

In the program notes, we are reminded that Garry Fry developed Replay Theatre in educational settings, in which “Actors explore themes with short semi-improvised plays derived from interaction with a target group; eg, homeless young people.  During replay of scenes, audiences are invited to change the action according to how they think these life situations could be improved.” 

It seems to me that Fry’s highly successful community work over many years has provided him with the skill in Reza’s version of Replay to direct his cast to seek the nuances of characterisation needed here, and each actor has succeeded well. 

I was particularly impressed by Debbie Newboult’s work: she added an extra dimension in her strong stage presence.

Life x 3 is very appropriate for a Canberra audience.  Academics audibly cringed at times when they were not laughing in recognition of their experiences, while couples who have tried to bring up children were equally amused in a squirmy sort of way, as Henri and Sonia’s 6 year old (Michael Spong’s voice off-stage) made demand after demand when he should have been asleep. 

The play, and this production of it, is both enjoyable and worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, adapted by Peter Evans and Kate Mulvaney for touring by Bell Shakespeare.  Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, August 2-13, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
2 August

Shakespeare is as constant as the Northern Star, and this production proves it. 

Working in generic modern dress, Peter Evans directs this neatly trimmed adaptation so that we see, by implication, the effects not so much of the non-violent Julia Gillard removal of Kevin Rudd (despite the usual claims of political stabbing-in-the-back) but more closely what the effects of Tony Abbott and the Barnaby Joyce Tea Party are likely to be.

The question for me about Julius Caesar has always been what to do with the second half.  Up to the murder and Antony’s ears speech there’s no problem with dramatic tension – in fact, up to Cinna’s mistaken slaughter by the maddened crowd.  But armies wandering around Philippi – all a bit ho-hum.

But not in this production.  The touring company has grown from Bell Shakespeare’s education component.  With only ten actors to do all the parts and everything else from set manoeuvering to an amazing scaffold construction, the old theatrical dictum that constraints lead to discipline is played out before our very eyes.  I trust they had the correct rigger’s tickets!

They certainly had the right stylistic ticket.  Combining acting the text with fully developed Stanislavski intentions with a choreographed design in movement, set within a Brechtian conception to alienate us from sentimental emotion was exactly right for this play. 

Actors came on stage, then signalled the moment that they walked into the acting space, and out again.  So simple – but so effective.  Actors could switch roles when they spoke through a standing microphone; or could make part of a private conversation suddenly public.

The result was a close-knit ensemble of performers each equally playing their parts in a complex jigsaw puzzle.  Placing the interval at precisely the halfway point, freezing the action as the first murderous blows were happening, gave us the motivation to return after champagne and coffee to find out how everything would fit together after this.

And what an ending. “Hold then my sword, and turn away thy face, While I do run upon it ….  Caesar, now be still: I kill’d not thee with half so good a will.”  Fade to black.  None of Shakespeare’s “Who is this man” etc etc.  We don’t need to see Brutus fall.  We know what he will do and our imaginations fill in the blank, in silence.  This is real theatre, leaving the audience to applaud in a peculiarly muted kind of way, even through two curtain calls.  There is a humility here, on the part of the performers and flowing over the audience, in recognising what Shakespeare has done.

He has shown us the inevitable unintended consequences of extreme destructive political action.  In Shakespeare’s day, Anthony Burgess suggests, the 1599 banning – indeed the burning “in good Nazi style” – of books about English history gave Will good reason to turn to more ancient times for a cautionary tale.  Then ironically, only 23 years after his death, republicans murdered a king in England.  They did things in reverse, having the civil war first,  then executing the king, with Oliver Cromwell the “Lord Protector” in Parliament until he died in 1658.  The monarchy was restored (and Cromwell’s body was dug up, hung in chains and beheaded) – and it must be said in the following century a compromise was reached to begin the establishment of today’s limited monarchy.

As I write, I am reading Jack Waterford in today’s Canberra Times (The Tony Abbott Tea Party, August 3, 2011 p.11).  Of the US Tea Party, he writes “For this anti-party, the mission is not seeking the best possible outcome in the circumstances, but resistance and purity….For Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott must seem much the same.  As she complains, he simply won’t accept the verdict of the umpire – the electorate – last year.  He acts as if he was cheated from his rightful place at the head of government…. Like the Tea Party his campaigning style has been focused on the extremes and on massive oversimplification.”

Waterford concludes, though, that if Gillard can get the carbon tax up and running, as she has the power to do with a majority in both houses, “There’s a very good chance that this would expose Abbott’s hollowness, his opportunism, and even some of the extremism of his remarks.  Tea Parties, as with their American predecessor Know-Nothing Parties, never win."

Just as Cassius and even the honest patriot Brutus could never win.  And just consider the parlous state the Roman polity ended up in, as Antony worked to make Octavius become the emperor Augustus.  What damage will the Tea Parties inflict on us all?
So, in my view, Shakespeare’s star still shines, lighting up our understanding, and I thank Bell Shakespeare for it.