'You can't keep checking if you've drawn blood, you simply have to get on with it'

Some call him Britain's finest living satirist. John Prescott prefers a different description.

Since starting out as a writer on Not The Nine O'Clock News, Alistair Beaton has carved out a career lampooning politicians. In the early days his target was Margaret Thatcher and her team of political lap dogs and in recent years New Labour has provided a similarly rich vein of material.

From a Very Social Secretary, inspired by David Blunkett's affair with Kimberly Quinn to The Trial of Tony Blair, which imagined the Prime Minister prosecuted for war crimes, Beaton has long been a thorn in the Government's side. It was shortly after the premiere of his play Feelgood, which mocked the culture of spin, that he found himself in the same television studio as the former Deputy Prime Minister.

"I overheard Prescott say, 'Is that the bastard who wrote that play?'," Beaton laughs. "I suppose his reaction was only to be expected and I should probably be grateful that he didn't punch me.

"Every so often I have to face those who have inspired my work, but I don't mind. When Carol Thatcher complained to me that 'Mummy' wasn't happy with many of the things I had written it made me very happy. It's confirmation I've hit a raw nerve.

"I know David Blunkett was pretty angry about A Very Social Secretary, but you can't keep looking to see if you've drawn blood, you just have to get on with it."

Beaton's latest project is an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which has its world premiere

at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, later this month. A folk-tale of social responsibility and justice set among the ruins of a war-torn village, the play was written in 1944, but its resonance in a world which has been overshadowed in recent years by conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan comes over loud and clear.

"As a satirist the theatre has always provided the greatest freedom," says Beaton. "Without a nervous broadcaster, and believe me all broadcasters are nervous, in the background you have much more of a free rein.

"I've always loved The Caucasian Chalk Circle and having lived for a while in Germany, where Brecht remains this towering figure, it was a real pleasure to go back to the original translation.

"It's set in Georgia, but it seems to me to be more a fairytale land which could be anywhere. It could have been Yugoslavia, it could be modern day Afghanistan. There's a line in the play which says in war the only winners are the leaders on one side and the losers are the ordinary people on both sides. That seems to me to be as true today as it was then."

Satire has been around as long as there have been rulers and politicians and Beaton admits that in the era of George Bush there was no better job.

"Recent years have been particularly ripe for satirists,"

he says. "With Bush out of the White House, we seem to be entering a slightly more hopeful period, but Obama is still very much on trial

and we are still living in a war-torn time.

"I do sometimes wonder whether we have ever learnt anything from the lessons

history should have taught us. Sadly, the depressing answer is we haven't. We are caught in an eternal struggle for justice and for peace, but in searching for those two things we are always drawn down an incredibly destructive path.

"We see nice educated people, wearing nice suits and nice ties, telling us sensible things about how they are protecting our welfare and looking after our future. Afterwards we realise the consequences of what they said were terrible and evil. That's always been the case and always will be."

While Beaton's work has serious points to make, he also wants to make people laugh. However, having successfully poked fun at every Prime Minister since Thatcher, he admits that he has failed to find anything remotely funny about Gordon Brown.

"He is very, very hard to satirise, simply because he is so profoundly dull and personally I also think he's cowardly," he says, before admitting that David Cameron has already given him much food for political thought. "I went to the last Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. They are very trusting people and let me in as part of the media. It made me realise just how thin the fabric of the party is.

"They have tried so hard to consign the image of the red-faced angry Tory with too much money to history, but the expenses scandal served to expose that little lie. At the moment trying to unpick Cameron's project is very hard, but if he does win the next General Election, I think there's every chance it will be a shambles.

"I've always had a childish sense of outrage about things I think are unfair or unjust. People always ask me whether satire has the power to change things for the good. I honestly don't know the answer to that question, but I do hope it gives heart to people who share that outrage.

"Of course, it's also nice, just to make them laugh and if I can do that while occasionally getting up the noses of the powerful, so much the better."

Like many of those in his audience, Beaton admits he has become disillusioned with much modern politics has to offer and he watched on in despair as the House of Commons set itself on a collision course with celebrity culture. When Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London, Beaton was one of many who believed that democracy rather than Ken Livingston had been the biggest loser.

"The fact people feel the need to vote for a celebrities with slightly crazy haircuts is a sign surely of how little faith we have in traditional politics," he says. "I'm not entirely sure when it all began to go wrong, but if there is one thought which should chill the blood it's the idea of Esther Rantzen standing as an MP.

"Real debate is now happening outside of politics. It's easy to laugh at the Climate Change Camp people and they do have a geekish element, but they are at least engaging with a matter of global importance as did those who took to the streets to protest against the war in Iraq."

Back in 1997, Beaton was among the many millions who voted for Blair and New Labour believing that things really could only get better. Disillusionment came with the invasion of Iraq. At the next General Election he plans to vote for the Green Party, but he has also made a little side bet of his own.

"I used to bet on horses, but I stopped when I realised I knew so little about them," he says. "I thought if I was going to gamble I might as well put my money on something I did know about

"Eighteen months before he became President, I got good odds on Barack Obama entering the White House and a little while ago I put some money on a hung parliament. These are interesting times and while it would be nice to think that at some point in the future we will be governed by decent honourable people who always do the right thing, I think, at least for the moment my job is safe."

Alistair Beaton's adaptation of The Caucasian Chalk Circle opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on September 25.

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