Proving a villain: the Bacchanals’ Richard III

RichardIIIRichard III, directed by David Lawrence. Bats Theatre, Wellington, until 31st January.


Reviewed by Dougal McNeill

Stabbings, strangulation, child murder, an earl drowned in a barrel of wine, sword fights, dirty politics, and – naturally – one of the best baddies in the whole of literature: Shakespeare’s Richard III sets out how villainy needs to be done. The Bacchanals’ wonderfully rambunctious and satirical production is a delight. They manage to make the play accessible without patronizing their audience or smoothing off any of the script’s rough edges. This is a text-centred production – and the ‘keen encounter’ of wits on display makes that a pleasure in itself – as well as a physical and fun, almost farcical, performance. Those new, or intimidated, by Shakespeare will find plenty here to entertain them, while existing fans and readers will have their appreciation of the playscript deepened and enriched. [Read more…]

Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis

InequalityGayaal Iddamalgoda reviews Max Rashbrooke (ed.), Inequality: a New Zealand Crisis (Bridget Williams Books, 2013). You can find out more about Inequality here.

The title of this book is a compelling challenge of one of the great myths of New Zealand capitalism; that being, that real poverty and inequality exists elsewhere. It is an honest, clear and easily readable account of the fact that New Zealand has a severe problem of social and economic inequality.

The book is divided into 17 chapters; each chapter is contributed by a different academic or commentator and offers a broad set of perspectives, economic, sociological and political on the facts of inequality in New Zealand. Punctuated between the chapters are a series of ‘viewpoints’ collected by editor and contributor Max Rashbrooke, based on interviews with various people from various walks of life.

The most valuable resource contained in this book is the information it presents to substantiate its claim, that New Zealand is facing a crisis of inequality. [Read more…]

Daniel Bensaïd’s Slow Impatience


Daniel Bensaïd, An Impatient Life, trans. David Fernbach (Verso, 2013)

This absorbing, affecting memoir is a beautiful testament to a richly productive and dignified life. Daniel Bensaïd spent over forty years as a partisan of the revolutionary left in France, writing, campaigning, organising and agitating. Drawn into Communist politics as a young man and then radicalised, along with a significant section of his generation, by anti-colonial struggle abroad and the events of 1968 at home, Bensaïd was a leader and theorist in the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, a Trotskyist party that emerged, as a libertarian, free-thinking and inventive gathering together of the best of 1968. He represents so much of what is admirable about the militants of his generation. As well as being a fine writer, if David Fernbach’s elegant translation is any indication, Bensaïd was a thoughtful and reflective strategist. Too many memoirs of 1968 grub about in complacent nostalgia; Bensaïd’s interest was always in our possible future.

[Read more…]

Film Review: Spirit of ’45

spirit_of_45_posterThe Spirit of ’45 was a movie centred around the political atmosphere in Britain after World War Two. With the victory over Hitler, British workers felt empowered, and felt they deserved more than the poverty of old Britain. They chose to kick out Churchill and elect Labour for the first time and implemented its radical policies of full employment, free healthcare, good council housing, better health and safety and free education. [Read more…]

Interrogating capitalist democracy


BOOK REVIEW: Brian S. Roper, The History of Democracy: a Marxist Interpretation  (Pluto Press, 2012)

British historian Geoffrey Ste Croix described the struggle for political control over the state as “class struggle on the political plane”. It is a neat formulation that Brian S. Roper effectively deploys to explain the history of Western democracy.

In one short book, he traces the rise and decline of Athenian participatory democracy and the Roman Republic; the rise of capitalism and the breakthroughs of the English, US and French revolutions; the European revolutions of 1848; the revival of participatory democracy in the Paris Commune and the Russian revolutions; and globalisation and the triumph of liberal democracy. He then provides a Marxist critique of the last. [Read more…]

Tui, Tuia: Gathering the threads of working-class history

sewing_freedomBOOK REVIEW: Jared Davidson, Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism and Early New Zealand Anarchism (AK Press, 2013)

We first encounter Philip Josephs, subject of Jared Davidson’s engrossing, lovingly-written, richly detailed and passionately political new book Sewing Freedom, as he addresses Wellington’s 1906 May Day demonstration: “This meeting sends its fraternal greetings to our comrades engaged in the universal class war, and pledges itself to work for the abolition of the capitalistic system and the substitution in New Zealand of a co-operative commonwealth, founded on the collective ownership of the land and the means of production and distribution.” This motion, for Davidson, captures the essence of Joseph’s anarchism – it was based in “internationalism, class struggle, and free communism.” [Read more…]

Review: We Will Work With You!

This is a wonderful exhibition, and is bound to fascinate every left-wing person interested in art and design, or just curious to see some of the history of the many social and political struggles from the past decades in Wellington.

Some of the work and originality that the work building activist campaigns demands – in designing leaflets, getting out posters, thinking up slogans and songs – gives us just a little glimpse of the enormous wasted  creativity of working people, creativity too often smothered or ignored in jobs where people are just ‘human resources’ towards profits.

[Read more…]

Film Review: American Radical: the trials of Norman Finkelstein

“Every single member of my family on both sides was exterminated. Both of my parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. And it is precisely and exactly because of the lessons my parents taught me and my two siblings that I will not be silent when Israel commits its crimes against the Palestinians.”

It is a tragedy to be born out of your time, when keeping faith with your past means breaking radically with the present. This documentary about radical Jewish American academic Norman Finkelstein is more gripping and tragic than any documentary about an academic should be.

[Read more…]

Book Review: The Lacuna

How do you write a history of revolutionary lives and activity in the mid 20th century and sell it to the public? A tough order, certainly, but Barbara Kingsolver nails it with The Lacuna.

The book follows the life of a young man, Harrison Shephard, who finds himself living between the worlds of his Mexican mother and American father. He attends high school in New York during the great depression and the Bonus Army riots, and describes the desperation and anger which filled the streets during those days. He returns to Mexico to serve in the home of Mexico’s most famous artists and communists – Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. Eventually, the household grows to include those homeless revolutionaries-in-exile, Natalia Sedova & Lev Bronstein – better known as Leon Trotsky.

[Read more…]

TV Review: Songs from the Inside

Songs from the Inside is a brilliant documentary series currently on Maori TV about four musicians coaching inmates at Arohata and Rimutaka to write their own songs.

The documentary is a welcome antidote to “reality TV”. Both the producer Maramena Roderick and director Julian Arahanga are very aware that they do not want to create a prison version of Idol.

[Read more…]