Off Broadway

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Many readers
will by now have seen either video footage or a newspaper transcript
of the weird private conversation between President Bush and Prime
Minister Blair during the so-called G8’s so-called summit meeting
in St. Petersburg last week. They were unaware that a nearby microphone
was switched on, and they were caught making various unguarded remarks.
(If you haven’t, there is a
transcript here
and partial
footage here
.)

I read the
transcript first, some days before I saw it on video, and found
it sufficiently fascinating that I kept returning to it. It seemed
more bizarre each time I re-read it. In time, I started to read
it as the script of a play — rather a bleak play by a writer probably
influenced by Pinter or Beckett.

In my mind’s
eye I saw a dark stage — very bare, no scenery — with a single spotlight
on two pathetic old drunks, shabbily dressed, sitting on cheap bentwood
chairs and talking together.

Bush: Yo, Blair.
How are you doing?

Blair: I’m
just …

Bush: You’re
leaving?

Blair: No,
no, no not yet. On this trade thingy …

The American
drunk immediately assumes authority by using the British drunk’s
surname only. Especially to British audiences, this strongly suggests
a master-servant relationship.

This reminds
us of the frequently-mentioned “special relationship” between their
two countries. We wonder: is the playwright saying that the US is
master and Britain servant? Is the relationship actually no more
special than the one between a dog and a lamp post?

The two drunks
blunder on. There is something oddly endearing in their repeated,
pitiful attempts to communicate with one another, and in their repeated
inability to construct even one coherent sentence. They fail again
and again, but they keep trying.

Bush: Who is
introducing the trade?

Blair: Angela.

Bush: Tell
her to call ‘em.

Blair: Yes.

Bush: Tell
her to put him on, them on the spot. Thanks for the sweater it’s
awfully thoughtful of you.

Neither of
them can keep their thoughts on track. One moment the American drunk
is talking about world trade, and then he suddenly veers off into
a discussion of sweaters. Yet neither of them apparently notices
any change of subject. It’s a stroke of genius that reminds me somehow
of Ionesco, a surrealist playwright whose work also touched on the
loneliness of being human.

What is the
playwright trying to tell us here? Is the American drunk a metaphor
for the USA, perhaps? Or its bewildered people?

This third
and final excerpt is rather more grim and intense in tone. Note
the lack of any rhythm in the speech, and the heartbreaking way
that individual thoughts drift away to nothing:

Blair: But
that’s, that’s, that’s all that matters. But if you … you see
it will take some time to get that together.

Bush: Yeah,
yeah.

Blair: But
at least it gives people …

Bush: It’s
a process, I agree. I told her your offer to …

Blair: Well
… it’s only if I mean … you know. If she’s got a … or if she
needs the ground prepared as it were … Because obviously if she
goes out, she’s got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out
and just talk.

Bush: You see,
the … thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hizbollah
to stop doing this s__t and it’s over.

Some critics
maintain that this passage shows the playwright’s contempt for higher
education. We know that the British drunk was educated at Oxford
and the American drunk at Yale and Harvard, and yet neither of them
can articulate a single thought — even a puerile or elementary thought
— or say anything worth listening to.

It’s a tragi-comedy.
We laugh at this hopeless pair even as we feel sorry for them. We
think of the desperation, the panic they must both feel; the sense
of futility as they trudge through yet another doomed attempt to
establish contact with a fellow member of the human race. Whatever
will become of them — or indeed of us, their audience?

So I was a
little disappointed to see that last week’s production of this masterpiece
was set in a big conference room, with lunch about to be served
by the look of it. The American drunk was sitting down in a fancy
chair while the British drunk hovered around him nervously.

It is an interesting
interpretation, but in the end I found it unconvincing. For example,
at the age of sixty, the American drunk still hadn’t learned not
to speak with his mouth full, and further humiliated the British
drunk by forcing him to watch bread and butter churning round in
his mouth. This would hardly be likely to happen in the real world.

For another
thing, they were neatly dressed and were surrounded by world leaders.
Again, it fails to convince. In the real world, these two bums would
never have made it past security. Further, asking the audience to
believe that national policy is made this way, in half-sentences
interrupted by talk of s__t and sweaters, is overly ambitious.

It was a brave
effort but, in conclusion, a wasted opportunity. We must hope for
a better production of this mysterious play at the next G8 summit,
which will be in Germany in June 2007.

July
24, 2006

Jeremy
Irwin [send him mail] describes
himself as “a sort of a buyer” who writes and edits in his spare
time. He lives in Tokyo.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare