Art tells us more about the First World War than any politician’s speech

Published by ConservativeHome

s end 3I had the fortune and great privilege when I was at school of appearing in productions of both R.C Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Joan Littlewood’s Oh, What a Lovely War!. Both, in very different ways, had a profound effect on my understanding and appreciation of the First World War, not least because my maternal grandfather (Gramps) – a veteran of both world wars – was conscripted to see me do battle in both productions. I can still remember meeting him in the school hall afterwards: I was eager for a pat on the back and words of praise, but all I got was watery eyes behind a damp hanky. There was I, the schoolboy, frolicking in the trenches of Flanders and waltzing to ‘Après la Guerre’ with Lady Haig. And there was Gramps, the veteran, for whom this was very real biography, and whose friends and colleagues were machine-gunned, gassed and buried on the Somme.

Journey’s End and Oh, What a Lovely War! are poles apart in their apprehension of the First World War. Sherriff’s 1928 play is an intimate, respectful tragedy about heroes, virtues, leadership and sacrifice. It speaks profoundly to pacifists and Just War advocates alike. Littlewood’s 1963 musical is an epic, irreverent romp through fluffy parodies and black-humoured allegory. It speaks volumes to cynics and sceptics without demeaning the memory of doomed youth. Sherriff wept with his fallen comrades, knee-deep in the muddy trenches of Passchendaele; Littlewood skipped with her pierrots, to an imagined dance of slaughter, bravura and vulgarity. Continue reading


Artistic anti-Semitism is still racial hatred

Published by Daily Mail

Playhouse burning ticketsYou usually get everything represented at the Edinburgh International Festival: it caters for all self-indulgent tastes in the postmodern world of moral relativism – from binge-drinking and bigamy to buggery and blasphemy. Gradually, over the decades, the arts have aided the rehabilitation of medieval notions of sin and human vice: lust has become love; wrath is free expression; greed is a work ethic; envy is a spur to social mobility; pride is aspiration; sloth is simply genetic; and gluttony has become a human right.

We’ve come (or gone) a long way since the Lord Chancellor’s censoriousness was curtailed. Our theatres may indeed still be monuments to our prodigality and folly, as the Puritan preacher the Rev’d Thomas White declaimed at St Paul’s in London during the plague. But one wonders about the contemporary equivalent of his evangelical apocalyptic observation that ‘the cause of plagues is sin…the cause of sin is plays; therefore the cause of plagues is plays.’ Continue reading