Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘theatre review’ Category

Britain and the Arab Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th January, 2018

AD409BBC-8DAA-47D4-92AA-A809A7CA3A16Britain’s war against the Ottoman Empire, following the Turks’ decision to side with Germany in the First World War, was considered a side-show by many generals and politicians in London, who believed that the Western Front was the real battlefield. Yet British intervention in the Middle East, partly in harmony with Arab forces keen to liberate themselves from the Ottoman yoke, was to have resounding consequences that are still being felt today. Rober H Lieshout’s weighty study of the subject, essentially covering the years 1914-1919, Britain and the Arab Middle East (I B Tauris, £29.95), examines the voluminous public records covering the period, notably of the War Cabinet and Foreign Office, supplemented by diaries, presenting material in such detail that one almost believes one is present. There were wrangles aplenty about just how much encouragement the British Government should give Sherif Hussein of Mecca regarding the putative independent Arab Kingdom that was meant to come into being after peace was agreed, but there is little doubt that he and his sons were largely duped. Despite the Entente, France comes over very badly most of the time, and whereas by 1918 the Lloyd George government believed that the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement carving up spheres of influence in the non-Turkish parts of the Ottoman Empire could not stand in its original form, because of the Wilsonian doctrine of self determination, Paris dug its heels in, determined that France should have its Syrian and Lebanese cake and eat it. Another issue that gave rise to huge disagreements within the British government was the Balfour Declaration, whose centenary was commemorated last year. The only Jewish member of the Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, was strongly opposed to the Zionists’ pleas as he believed the Arab population of Palestine would not agree to Jewish domination there and moreover that Jews elsewhere might suffer further persecution in their home countries if a Jewish state were proclaimed. Some of the most valuable parts of Lieshout’s book cover these sometimes heated discussions and the personalities involved. Largely, he lets the documents speak for themselves, keeping critical commentary and theorising to a minimum, which allows the reader to make up their own mind. Presumably for marketing purposes, the book uses a fetching photograph of T E Lawrence in Arab garb on the cover, though he was in reality quite a marginal figure, despite the publicity that his romantic derring-do later generated. The index will be of use to serious scholars of the period, as well as to amateur historians of the Middle East, as this well-documented narrative is a valuable resource.

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Dulat Issabekov at 75

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd October, 2017

Dulat IssabekovThe Kazakh writer and playwright Dulat Issabekov is in London at the moment, as several of his works are being performed in the city to coincide with his 75th birthday. Celebrated in Kazakhstan, and well-known in much of the rest of the former Soviet Union, Issabekov is the author of numerous novellas and short stories, though it is probably his plays that have had the greatest resonance. Last night, at a dinner at the House of Lords, organised by Rahima Abduvalieva of the Aitmatov Academy and chaired by Lord (Ian) Wrigglesworth, guests were not only able to meet the playwright but also to hear brief extracts from his work. His themes are universal, dealing with subjects such as love and memory, even if their settings are Central Asian. Kazakhstan — a country I have had the pleasure to visit three times — is physically huge and ethnically diverse, despite its comparatively small population, and Issabekov’s work reflects some of his country’s cultural diversity. Tonight, at the Bridewell Theatre off Fleet Street in London, his play The Actress will be performed by the Korean Theatre of Drama & Music from Almaty (in Korean, with English surtitles), then tomorrow through to Friday, at the same venue, one can see his Song of the Swans, performed in English by London’s own Pajarito Theatre.

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LibDems Vote to Recognise Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th September, 2017

IMG_2811At their autumn conference in Bournemouth yesterday, Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognise the State of Palestine. The vote came at the end of a thoughtful and well-informed debate on a motion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, drafted with input from both Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP, which I chair) and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). Balfour expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish inhabitants were not compromised. Clearly the second half of that commitment has not been fully implemented, not least in the occupied territories. In my speech, I argued that calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine was timely for three reasons, namely the Balfour centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation (the longest such situation in modern history) and the fact that it is one minute to midnight for finding a way forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Personally, I believe it is up to the people of the region to decide ultimately whether a two-state or a one-state solution is ideal, but in the meantime, recognising Palestine would give Palestinians a degree of equality in a singularly unequal relationship. Moreover, to acknowledge Palestine as a state (as more than 130 members of the United Nations have already done) would help restore some of the dignity that was taken away from Palestinians by the Occupation, along with their land and much of their water. The Conservative government has been backsliding on the issue of Palestine, recently downgrading the status of the Palestinian Ambassador, and it must be pressed hard to change its position.

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A Toe in the Edinburgh Fringe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th August, 2017

From Today Everything ChangesYesterday I was up in Edinburgh for the first time during the city’s annual Arts festival, thanks to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit, at an evening reception at the National Museum of Scotland. The weather was fine, which meant I was able to spend much of the day wandering along the Royal Mile and nearby streets, drinking in the atmosphere of the street performances of the Edinburgh Fringe. In the afternoon, lured by a flyer,  I went to see one play, Ian Tucker-Bell’s From Today Everything Changes, at the unusually smart fringe venue of a meeting room on the first floor of the Hilton Hotel on North Bridge. It’s a one act, three-hander, in which Tucker-Bell plays one of the parts along with Nick Blessley and Bizz Portlock. The central character is a sexagenarian man, Alan, who comes to realise after the death of his wife that he is actually gay and who then embarks on a quest through Gaydar to gain some experience. After some false starts he links up with Chris, a man 20 years his junior, and they fumble towards a relationship. The play is not just about a previously married man coming to terms with homosexual feelings and the challenges of inter-generational love, but also tackles human insecurity and loss. It is to the credit of the two main actors that they evoke empathy from the audience almost from the word go. There is an effective mixture of monologue by Alan, interspersed with scenes of the two men’s meetings and interventions by Alan’s daughter, Alice. In the space of 50 minutes a very human story, involving characters who are in many ways just ordinary people, is acted out movingly, with a sweet and sour flavour of humour blended with tension. Altogether highly recommended. There is only one more performance in Edinburgh, tomorrow (Saturday) at 4.05pm, but the Kent-based company, the Oast Theatre, will be putting it on in other parts of the country.

Link: https://www.oasttheatre.com

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