SEARCH:  
Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 9th March 2002

The Mysteries / Hinterland / Privates on Parade

The Spectator - 9th March 2002

I find myself in a minority of one this week. The Mysteries has opened to universal praise from the critics and rapturous, ecstatic applause from audiences. On the night I saw it, everyone was on their feet by the end of the evening, cheering this modern retelling of the medieval mystery plays, with its exuberant South African cast, as if it was the second coming. But it left me completely cold.

Part of the reason is that I simply couldn't follow what was going on. The words, both spoken and sung, are a mixture of English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu, the four principal languages of South Africa, and the whole thing might as well have been in Double Dutch. For the vast majority of the audience this didn't seem to matter, presumably because they know all the stories by heart, but as someone who was educated entirely in the state sector I know next to nothing about Christianity. The only religious instruction I received at the various comprehensives I went to consisted of learning about Buddhism and Hinduism for half an hour each week. Had The Mysteries been a modern retelling of the Koran I might have been able to grasp what was happening. But given that it's based on the Bible I couldn't make head or tail of it.

My general impression was of a play that portrays the people of South Africa, and in particular their naive appreciation of Christianity, in such a condescending light that it borders on racism. Time and again, the audience is invited to chuckle indulgently at these charming simpletons, banging their dustbin lids and slapping their thighs, as they might at a group of backward schoolchildren performing a nativity play. I could easily imagine watching it with a group of Colonial Officers and their wives 100 years ago in the Muthaiga Country Club: "Oh do look, Charles. That funny little man with the horns on his head is supposed to be the devil. Isn't it marvellous that the natives have embraced our religion so enthusiastically? All that missionary work that dear Mama performed wasn't in vain after all."

I'm sure the producers would dispute this interpretation. The Myseteries is presented as a celebration of modern South Africa, with its different languages and traditions, as if the play had emerged spontaneously in the back streets of Cape Town. But The Mysteries isn't an organic expression of contemporary South African culture at all. Rather, it's the brainchild of Mark Dornford-May and Charles Hazlewood, two white, middle-class Englishmen who were asked to devise it by the director of a South African theatre festival. This, presumably, is how these two patronising luvvies imagine a group of South African players would respond if they were asked to stage the Chester mystery plays. Consequently, there really is no excuse for the idiotic buffoonery on stage. This play is every inch a Westerner's view of how a group of uneducated Africans might go about entertaining a white audience and the fact that they're depicted as happy-go-lucky innocents doesn't make it any less racist. The Mysteries is the contemporary equivalent of The Black and White Minstrel Show.

Hinterland, which has just opened at the Cottesloe, is a new work by Sebastian Barry, the Irish playwright who brought us The Steward of Chistendom. It stars Patrick Malahide as Johnny Silvester, an ex-President of the Emerald Isle whose corruption in the form of accepting backhanders is finally catching up with him. The language has a certain vitality, largqely because Silvester is fond of quoting his favourite poets, but the play itself never comes to life. Indeed, it didn't strike me as a proper play at all. It's more like a monologue that should have been produced on Radio Four in their afternoon drama slot. The secondary characters, such as Silvester's embittered wife and mentally disturbed son, don't really interact with the ex-President so much as stand there commenting unfavourably on his attempts to rationalise his misdeeds. It's all exposition and no incident. Malahide does his best to inject a sense of epic drama into Silvester's struggle with his conscience, but I kept being reminded of Inspector Chisolm, the character he played on Minder. Malahide has a habit of turning his face to one side, pursing his lips and rolling his eyes in an attempt to convey his complete and utter exasperation, irrespective of the character he's playing. Every time he did this I half expected George Cole to emerge from the wings with a warrant for Silvester's arrest.

I want to end this week with a confession: I failed to review Privates on Parade which, judging from the performance I saw last week, was one of the finest plays in the West End. I say "was" because it has now closed, but Roger Allam's performance as Terri Dennis, the wonderfully camp director of the British Army's Song and Dance Unit in South East Asia, will live on in my memory for a long time. I promise to do better by you in future.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share





Twitter @NiranjanAjit @tgemiles @NickJTimothy No, but the first to contrast somewheres with nowheres. I took it to be a rif… link  (2 hours ago)

BEST OF THE WEB

The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski - the-american-interest.com
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony - jerusalemletters.com
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller - quillette.com
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand - newyorker.com
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge - economist.com
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell - city-journal.org
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell - quillette.com
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff - newsweek.com
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings - dominiccummings.wordpress.com
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew - politico.com
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus - claremont.org
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman - theguardian.com
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer - conservativehome.com
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan - nationalreview.com
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs - newstatesman.com
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker - edge.org
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood - theatlantic.com
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray - quadrant.org.au
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch - thetimes.co.uk
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter - conservativeteachers.com
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win - youtu.be
Corbyn's first seven days - theguardian.com
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey - news.sky.com
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons - gq-magazine.co.uk
Inside Westminster's free school - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair - theguardian.com
Robert Conquest obit - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that - news.stv.tv
In defence of free schools by Toby Young - standpointmag.co.uk
 

BLOGROLL

Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Normblog
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Slate
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone
 

COLUMNISTS

AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
 
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.com


  • IMdb Page on the film