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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 January 2017

Theatre review: The Seven Acts of Mercy

High art and savage poverty in Bootle

photo Tristram Kenton

photo Tristram Kenton   (Click to enlarge)

Mark Baker, Bristol North Socialist Party

A new offering from left-wing playwright Anders Lustgarten might seem a surprising choice for the Royal Shakespeare Company to stage, but it's well worth the effort. 'The Seven Acts of Mercy' is a painting by the revolutionary artist Caravaggio, and this play explores its relevance to modern day Bootle.

Two Cities, two timelines, tied together by the lurking presence of the Catholic Church. Caravaggio (Patrick O'Kane) himself is holed up in the Pio Monte church, where the painting is still housed today. It is the Naples of 1606, following a brutal duel in which he has killed a man.

One part of the story concentrates on his cynical view of the world and his burgeoning relationship with his prostitute model Lavinia, while the political establishment seeks to silence his radical message. The other looks at the life of a retired docker with a terminal illness, Leon (Tom Georgeson).

Leon rails against modern capitalism while teaching his grandson Mickey to appreciate art and Everton FC. There's plenty to rail about in the world of food banks and the bedroom tax, but it is the question of housing that comes to the fore. They face eviction at the hands of property developers carrying out their work in the name of working class "aspiration," as one New Labour apparatchik describes it.

Amid this savage environment, neatly juxtaposed with the violence and brutality of seventeenth century Naples, Mickey sets out with his mobile phone camera to recreate the Seven Acts of Mercy. Visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, refresh the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, shelter the homeless, bury the dead.

He hopes to show his grandfather that these seven acts exist in real life, not just art - with mixed results.

Caravaggio's work is full of action and energy, often emphasising working class characters. In 'The Crucifixion of St Peter', your attention is drawn to the sweated labour of those bearing the cross rather than the crucifixion itself. Lustgarten expresses the social conscience of the working class of Bootle with the same raw energy.

As the story develops, Leon's errant son and father to Mickey, now a "self-made man", returns to the fray, and his role in their recent life experiences becomes revealed. Among other scenes, their family divisions are exposed while watching the Merseyside football derby on TV, and a particularly funny episode where Leon compares all of the leading teams to various political parties.

The production has moments of great pathos as well as humour. There are strong messages about social housing and poverty, but also the violence and corruption inherent in class-based society both then and now.

It's unlikely this work will get the same exposure as 'I, Daniel Blake', for example. But for those who do get the chance to see it - the voice of the dispossessed speaks loud and clear, and the desire to rid the world of capitalist exploitation once and for all rings out for all to hear.

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In The Socialist 18 January 2017:


What we think

Labour's civil war continues - build a mass workers' party

Tories torn in two on single market


Resist Trump

Resist Trump

Inaugurate the resistance

We can stop Trump's sexist agenda in its tracks


International socialist news and analysis

Mexico: Mass movement against "gasolinazo"

USA: Seattle activists win housebuilding programme

1917revolution.org website to launch


Socialist Party news and analysis

'Black alert' NHS: Demonstrate 4 March

Eight billionaires own as much as half humanity!

Pollution kills 600: fight for clean air!

Northern Ireland calls snap election: back Labour Alternative

Millwall FC move threat: Defend the Den - 'wall not Renewal


Workplace news and analysis

Billions in profit for Tesco, cuts and job losses for workers

Liverpool dockers and drivers protest "appalling lack of facilities"

Manchester: BA cabin crew pay strike

London: Taxi drivers gridlock City of London

Southern Rail strike continues

Unite the Union elections

PCS union national executive elections


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

The Socialist: read it, write it, sell it

Protesters surround Sheffield's cutting council

Fracking protest in Sherwood Forest

Residents protest at plans to close nine community centres

Anger at south east Kent Momentum meeting

Socialist Party national committee agrees document for congress


Socialist readers' comments and reviews

Why I joined the Socialist Party

Theatre review: high art and savage poverty in Bootle

John Berger: remarkable art of a contradictory socialist

Socialist artists invite others to exhibit work

The Socialist inbox


 

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