Having lived for so many years with the story of Alfred Salter and his fight with poverty I confess to being somewhat shell shocked at having finished the play “Politic Man”. (A new title, my blogging followers will notice)
“The helmet of Pluto which maketh the Politic Man go invisible, is secrecy in the counsel and celerity in execution” (Essays Civil and Moral 21. Francis Bacon)
Finishing anything that has taken up so much head space is similar to the close of a relationship, saying goodbye to your child or worse: waking up one morning to an empty house. I have probably written enough scenes for half a dozen different plays on the same topic; enough to fill the entire National Theatre season for a year. There have been so many drafts and one major re-write where scenes that I had laboured over were killed off and characters I had adored were vanquished. You have to have a tough hide to write a coherent play and this has been the toughest ride yet.
But I am pleased and excited by it and yesterday sent off the completed draft to the Bush Theatre for they have an open window for submissions and I submit therefore I can. The play is set in London so that should be its theatrical home though some would argue that the themes are big ones concerning justice and fairness and peace and therefore affect everyone. And it is based on historical events which some will remember and some will have learned about. Two World Wars; the depression; the General Strike; the Labour Party’s first term in Office; appeasement; Conscientious Objectors and Women’s Suffrage. And the people that appear on stage with the Salters are famous names from times gone by. George Lansbury;Herbert Morrison; Winston Churchill; Clementine Churchill and Keir Hardie. The ordinary folk are here in the shape of Bertha and Edna, both of whom represent the vox pops of the people; the hideous misunderstandings; the ignorant comments; the prejudice; the fear of change; and in their case the lack of opportunity to vote at all.
And the arrival of a new character Thomas Salter, Alfred’s younger brother, has been the key to this new change. He is the holder together of pieces; the antithesis to Alfred’s beliefs; the storyteller and the grand inquisitor; the unknown, unsung hero of World War One. His appearance in the play has triggered the argument of peace versus aggression; of principle versus practice more ably than I have managed before. He is a great find and I am grateful to Johanna Crawshaw, a distant relative of the Salters, for her timely intervention.
When writing my cover page yesterday for the submission to the Bush Theatre I had to answer this question:
What is the Contemporary Bite of the Play. The big question for the audience?
That’s some question. My answer was:
Shared values of truth and fairness create a better life for every individual. A microcosm of an ideal world. The Salters suffered in their life through strongly held beliefs. Can the ideal ever be achieved and is there a leader who can take us there?
And there’s the rub. The audiences who come to see this play are voters. I have a fervent desire to say to them: use your vote. Don’t be silent. Apathy kills. Make your voice heard and elect a leader who will speak the truth. As Socrates responds to Alfred in an earlier draft:
ALFRED I shall always tell the truth.
SOCRATES Then you will always be unhappy.
But I hope, when the play is staged, that at least a few people’s hearts are changed and we can continue to reach for the ideal of Government with integrity.