The Establishment (And how they get Away With it) by Owen Jones: Book Review


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I began this, now slightly out of date, polemic by Owen Jones slightly half-heartedly.  I was expecting a tirade of Trotskyite abuse that would provide some titilation before quickly descending into irritation.

I was wrong.

This is a monumental anti-Establishment treatise that is outstandingly researched, compellingly argued and carefully structured so that his observations steadily underpin each other and make the whole extremely robust as a result.

It takes us on a journey from 1979 – 2016, but he underpins it with important historical footnotes from the 19th and 20th centuries that shed important light on his views.

(One that stopped me in my tracks was that the political classes were an elite – you had to have property to vote and you had to have money to ‘serve your country’ – in fact politicians, until Victorian times, were unpaid.  Once that had changed and the Labour movement had begun, bringing working class men into the house they were paid minimal salaries so that a political career was not an aspiration, rather it was a vocation and a duty.  However, with rocketing salaries becoming an MP is now an extremely well paid job – £79,468 at the time of writing.  This has begun to attract the Establishment as a career for those who may have opted for journalism (essentially broken) or the City previously – the much despised career politician with absolutely no experience in the ‘real world’.   This is a very bad thing and results in Establishment politicians being helicoptered into seats that they care not a jot for.)

Jones’ book is essentially a deconstruction of the Free Market Capitalism that rose in popularity by a group of economic outriders in the 1970’s when socialism in the UK was at a low ebb; principally as a result of unmanageable and extremely strident trade unions and appallingly badly run nationalised industries, managed by bureaucrats.

This paved the way for Thatcher’s Free Market Capitalism policies, denationalisation of almost anything that moved, the crushing of the unions, indeed their complete vilification (and in some cases murder of their members – Orgreave anybody?) and the fuelling of an unhealthy reliance on the UK’s financial sector as its engine of economic growth, despite appalling regulation.

The book takes the key pillars of the Establishment and systematically challenges their morality, efficacy and value.  It clearly makes the point that this country serves a small and wealthy elite at the expense of fair societal sharing of opportunity.  In turn he deconstructs:

  • The political outriders of the 70’s, and later, who espoused free market economics
  • The Westminster Cartel (now bubble), and not purely the Conservatives.  The entire thing is roundly criticised with New Labour coming in for particular vilification and Nick Clegg’s selling out of the Lib Dems – indeed the whole rise of neo-Liberalism is roundly attacked
  • The police with their endemic racism, (stop and search gets a right good kicking and rightly so), bullying, the harassment and occasional death of protestors – including trade unions, the forming of undercover sexual relationships and so on
  • The oligarch-driven media ownership of the UK and their cosying in with Blair, Brown and Osborne in particular
  • The appalling abuse of corporate tax laws, including the, again, cosying up of the ‘Big Four’ to create tax laws for government that only they understand and can quickly exploit through the loopholes they know for their corporate clients
  • The finger pointing at state-‘scroungers’ whose collective abuse is but a grain of sand compared to the tax avoidance of the wealthy Establishment elite
  • The destruction of the NHS and the outrageous funding of corporations through lucrative private sector deals and the ongoing scandal that is PFI
  • The lining of politicians’ pockets by private industry in non-exec or other paid roles that seem wholly a conflict of interest – particularly in healthcare and defence
  • The Banks – he calls the City ‘Masters of the Universe’.  Here’s a fact for you.  The bonuses of London City bankers (even after the crash) far exceed the combined bonuses of all of Europe’s banks put together.  The post-crash regulation is limp-wristed and ineffective and it was The State that took the toll, not the banks through completely unjustified ‘Austerity’.

Throughout he argues how Free Market Capitalism despises the state yet uses it as its mop to clean up the failures of the banks through the public purse.

But it’s not just a rant, indeed it’s not EVEN a rant.  At all times Jones is calm in presenting what is essentially a one-sided argument; but of course it is.

In his brilliant conclusion he posits clear and compelling arguments for media control, police control, re-nationalisation with employee and customer boards, a re-empowerment of the Unions – or at least reasonable rights for them and an impassioned plea to support left wing Outriders.  Right wing policy was not popular (even on the right before the 70’s) and he argues that everything is cyclical.

We need not give up.

This is a powerful polemic and is a superbly enjoyable read.  I only wish it was up to date and included the whole Brexit catastrophe that the Establishment and The Westminster Cartel has created.

The Kindergarten Teacher: Movie Review.


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Of course any production starring Maggie Gyllenhaal is worthy of consideration because she is a great actor and has been since her breakout performance in Secretary.

Her Deuce (which she produced) was one of the great TV series of recent years and she really goes for it in whatever she does.  That invariably includes getting naked and she doesn’t let us down in that respect here either.

It’s a star vehicle for Gyllenhaal who plays Lisa, a Kindergarten teacher who has a growing up family that are typical millennials; caught up in their own teenage angst and disengaged from Mom.  Her husband is a good soul (a nice performance by Michael Chernus), but he’s become a comfortable home bird who’s get up and go has got up and gone.

So the highlight of her week is her Tuesday night poetry class in which her hunky Spanish tutor likes her, but not her poetry.

It’s a drab life, although clearly Lisa is a good and dedicated teacher.

So imagine her surprise when a five year old pupil, Jimmy, (a pretty wooden, frankly pretty rubbish, performance by Parker Sevak – this is no McCualey Culkin in the making) recites a poem he has created.  She is transfixed and appropriates it for herself and reads it at her poetry class.

Her fellow students and tutor are impressed with the complexity and quality of her creation and so begins a process where she nurtures Jimmy’s talent and champions his talent. She does it for him, not for her despite her initial subterfuge at poetry class.

It’s lovingly directed (female director Sara Colangelo) and is achingly slowly developed as a story.

I didn’t see the twist coming in Act Three.  A twist that draws your breath and makes for a truly epic (although quietly so) denouement.  It takes us into areas of such taboo that escalates the story from a delightful study in teacher/student connection into something way more challenging but it is handled deftly and sympathetically despite the horror of what is unfolding in front of us.

This is an intelligent movie with a commanding performance by Gyllenhaal.  She copes effortlessly with the ‘wooden’ Jimmy and creates a character that you are deeply sympathetic with, and that makes the denouement all the more shocking and sad.

Highly recommended.

Us: Movie Review


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The ‘tethered’ family who come to terrorise their human (or are they) doppelgängers.

The Us of the title are Jordan Peele’s ‘tethered’ doppelgängers of North Americans (pictured) who live underground. After many years underground the Rapture has arrived  as predicted in Jeremiah 11:11 and the human race faces a challenge that it will struggle to overcome.

Peele’s second horror is every bit as intellectually challenging as Get Out And like that debut features a fine central performance; this time in the form of Lupita Nyong’o, her family and their ‘tethers’.  For quite long sequences of the movie Nyong’o shares the screen with herself in absolutely seamless editing and post production that takes your breath away. In fact much of this film does that with its incredible design and vivid photography.

The main cast is almost exclusively black, but a fine cameo by Elizabeth Moss and her family is the exception.

A starting point may have been Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Nyong’o, as a young child in 1986, is drawn into this sinister underworld in a beach-side fairground show on Santa Cruz promenade. Wearing the Thriller T shirt her dad has won in a coconut shy she is taken from this world to a backdrop of Hands Across America, which was supported by Jackson.

It’s not the scariest horror you will ever see (although it has enough jumps to keep your heart going) but it’s one of the creepiest.  It sits neatly in the latest greats of the genre (Get Out, It follows) that treats its viewer with respect and keeps you guessing right to the end.

I won’t say much more as it will only lead me to spoilers but, put it this way, we are in the hands of a master craftsman here – his next movie project is a rewrite of Candyman by the way.

Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


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It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)

 

Come From Away; West End Musical Review.


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This show has been an absolute smash in North America and I can see why.  It has a certain saccharine sweetness that, for me, gets in the way of a more gripping retelling of a charming and heartfelt story.

Maybe there is no hiding from the truth.  It’s just nice.

Also 9/11 happened there and this is one of the few shows that doesn’t mourn it but finds a nugget to celebrate the human positives that emerged.

The actions concern those of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, (The Rock) home of the biggest airport in the world that no-one ever uses anymore (since jet planes’ fuel tanks got bigger the planes don’t have to stop there for transatlantic refuelling – for the record).

The residents of Gander’s is a modern day ‘evacuees’ act of human kindness, in that they took the 7,000 stranded passengers, strangers, of 38 planes, that couldn’t land in New York, on 11 September 2001, into their community and then to their homes.

But it’s all a bit hokey for me.  The relentless 180bpm Oirish/Newfie folk music gradually starts to do your head in as its one tune relentlessly ploughs a furrow towards your amigdila but in my case bypassed it and hit the cranial nerve instead.

It’s storytelling on steroids.  $ for $ you get more words here than you will anywhere else in the West End.  But it feels too crammed in – too worthy perhaps. just too much.  There’s absolutely no room made to stop and take stock.  No light and shade (or very little anyway).

Sure, it has its moments and some of the subplots are interesting (real). For me the most successful concerns a mother who’s  fireman son is working on the twin towers and she is beside herself with worry.  It leads to one of the few really poignant moments in this marathon jig.

The showstopper numbers; the opener ‘Welcome to the Rock’ and ’38 planes’ are certainly enthusiastic and well received and the finale has significant gusto and was met with the audience leaping to its feet almost as one.

But, I’m sorry, it missed the spot for me, almost completely, and I found myself sneaking looks at my watch despite its 90 minute run time.

One last thing.  The seating in The Phoenix Theatre was clearly designed for Victorians at a time when people were six inches shorter than today.  Horrendously uncomfortable.

After Life : TV Series Review


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Ricky Gervais has never, ever written a bad script.

And although he is pigeonholed as a comedian, writing comedy-drama he is far more than this.

He is an observer of the deepest human emotions and psyche. How else could David Brent exist?  How else could Derek be considered even remotely acceptable to be the star of a comedy, let alone have Gervais portray the part he had written, rather than cast an actor with learning difficulties?

In this latest offering, brought to us by Netflix, Gervais has reached a creative zenith.  In episode four there is a moment with a rice pudding that is the funniest thing I have ever seen on TV.  In episode 6, I wept for 15 minutes solidly.

It’s the story of a local free newspaper journalist who works to live, it’s not a career, it’s a job to fill the time between leaving his home, and his beloved wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman – Godly talent more like), and returning to spend each and every night with her.

The trouble is she’s just died of cancer and Tony (Gervais) can’t cope.  Only the dog is keeping him alive and it brings his dark cynicism and sarcasm to the fore. It gives him a super-power.  The power to be a total **** to everyone and anyone.  Sometimes to bad people who deserve it, like the school bully, but at other times to borderline cases (like a cheeky chugger).

His dad has Alzheimers and doesn’t recognise him.

His therapist is a moron.

His colleagues, led by the truly outstanding Tony Way as ‘photographer’ Lenny, are all ‘arseholes’.  Except they aren’t.  They’re just ordinary people.

He gradually falls for the nurse who works in his dad’s care home and that has a touch of joy about it.

But more than anything this show just shows that people are largely good.  Even the bad ones like Tony’s naughty postman.

The moments in the graveyard with a grieving widow, played by the magnificent Penelope Wilton, are pure philosophy.

And we have Diane Morgan (Philomena Cunk).

And during the cremation of a junkie that results in Tony standing in the smoke with a nun, it means he has to say to her, “Don’t breathe that in sister, you’ll be off your tits.”

We watched all six episodes back to back and I urge you to do the same.

Better than any TV I have seen in an awful, awful long time.

Utterly perfect.

Thank you Netflix for having the bravery to commission this.

(Oh, and the soundtrack is brilliant too.)

(And so is the dog.)