It’s difficult to know what to write about this week. Two young playwrights from Yorkshire, Charley Miles and Christopher York, are doing amazing things and winning wonderful reviews for their first plays in Edinburgh at the world’s biggest arts gathering.
Jack Whitehall, a heterosexual man, is playing Disney’s first openly gay character and some people are angry that a straight man should be bestowed with the honour of playing the cartoon behemoth’s first homosexual. Mr Bean thinks that Boris Johnson is a comedian and has come to Johnson’s defence over his controversial column in which he described Muslim women who wear a burka as looking like “letter-boxes”. Rowan Atkinson is a one-off, a comedy genius: and yes, some people believe that’s an overused word, but if you’ve seen him performing the School Master Sketch while in his mid-twenties you’ll agree it’s apt. It was, therefore, painful to see him defend the calculating Johnson whose bufoonish act is exactly that and one for which we’re falling for all over again.
Also in Edinburgh a BBC Scheme called Debut has received its, well, debut, and has been promptly skewered. The scheme was established to give first time playwrights the opportunity to have their work seen on the stage at the Fringe. As a working playwright, you might think I’d be all for that. The problem was, for many, that the first time playwrights the BBC chose to fund for the project included Frank Skinner and IT Crowd actor Katherine Parkinson. Not all that in need of a leg up in the arts, you might think. The plays have been roundly panned. Idris Elba may or may not be playing Bond and this week the Arts Council Chief Exec Darren Henley came to Bradford to celebrate an increase in funding for the city. I was recently asked to be on a steering committee by a West Yorkshire MP to look at how more arts funding might be lured into the Bradford district, so Henley’s visit was a welcome one.
You see my trouble? I am delighted to see Britain’s cultural world not just healthy, but robustly leading the news agenda. The problem is that all this news from the arts world feels like a tsunami.
It brings to mind the 1960s stage-turned-movie musical Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. Which is kind of what I did this week. I went through my bookshelf and returned to an old favourite, George Orwell’s Why I Write. A short read, it’s a reminder of the incisive clarity that great writers can bring to a situation. From the essay: “I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” What I wouldn’t give for an Orwell right now, to make sense of what feels increasingly like A Mad World, My Masters.