At the end of April, I blogged about The Angry Brigade play opening at London’s Bush Theatre and quoted my friend Sam Taylor (not his real name) who was around at the time.
This afternoon, I went to see the play with Sam.
I was more concerned with the style; Sam with the content.
The play was two-and-a-half hours long including a 20-minute interval in the middle and the first half, at least, could/should have been cut by a third. Words were being written and spouted simply for the sake of writing and spouting words, not developing a plot.
The first half seemed like some stylised semi-farce or something out of a 1970s sitcom with comic police and added serious bits and the second half seemed to be trying to be poetic and arty and cutting-edge.
“I just don’t know,” I told Sam, “why the story of The Angry Brigade has gone off the radar and disappeared from memories of British social history. I mean, you say it’s cos they were so dull, but…”
“Yes,” said Sam.
“You were in two minds about seeing the play,” I said.
“I just didn’t have a clue,” explained Sam, “what they could possibly do with the four of them because, as far as I know, they’ve never given out their story and no-one knows, so I just didn’t see how you could make a play out of these four very dull people. They just were not very charismatic people.”
“The real people?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Sam. “And they were so young.”
“Immediately post-university,” I said.
“Yes,” said Sam. “I was afraid of what the play might do with the story – try and make it politically justified. That all their wild ramblings would be rationalised.”
“I thought,” I said, “that the play gave vent to their wild ramblings in the second half in a reasonably fair way.”
“But the astonishing 168 or was it 186 attacks in one year?” said Sam. “That is quite astounding. At what point did the papers first print the story?”
“I have to say I didn’t know there had been an embargo on it,” I said. “I guess there must have been a ‘D’ Notice on it.”
“Yes,” said Sam.
“And, in the play,” I said, “the police seemed to be baffled why they bombed the Post Office Tower.”
“They were just kids,” replied Sam. “They were just… Biba, the Post Office Tower. How can you rationalise that?…”
“Well,” I said. “The Post Office Tower is fair enough. It was a defence installation. Presumably is. Nothing to do with the Post Office. But I just thought the whole play was superficial. There is so much material in that story, there has to be a good play – or film – in there somewhere. But this wasn’t it.”
“You have to have charismatic characters,” said Sam, “a premise and some genuine political beliefs instead of playing at anarchism.”
“They vaguely,” I said, “tried to have some depth in the second half, but it just degenerated into running around, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. A lot of the budget must have gone in buying the music rights.”
“It wasn’t any music I ever listened to,” said Sam. “The strange thing is that, in that circle, I don’t remember anyone ever playing music. At university you did; you used to go to each other’s rooms but, in that circle, with so many people coming and going in all the squats and in these communes – we weren’t in squats, we were communes – I don’t remember anyone ever sitting quietly listening to music.”
“Also,” I said, “the play was only about four people and the police in the play only seemed to be pursuing four people. Maybe it was concentrated for artistic reasons.”
The Angry Brigade trial was called, at the time, the trial of The Stoke Newington Eight.
“I knew nothing about the trial,” said Sam, “except everyone knew that they were guilty, though not on those charges. I do remember there was fundraising for them and marches for them and the feeling – which you would appreciate – that those charges were false. They did it, but not what they were charged with… I’d have to go back and read about it in retrospect because I knew about it so little at the time.”
“And there was the other guy,” I said, “who I think everyone thought was the central one. Though the play did include a German bloke coming over with guns. And they mentioned Paris.”
“Yes,” said Sam. “They were clearly getting their supplies from Paris.”
“I was,” I said, “amazed they only got ten year sentences. You would think, just for setting off bombs at the front and back doors of the Employment Secretary’s home alone they would have got stiffer sentences.”
“Mmmm…” Sam responded.