Skip to main content

Never So Good

Eyewear went to see Never So Good, the new play on at the National Theatre, by Howard Brenton, which details the resisted rise of Harold Macmillan, of "the winds of change" and Profumo fame. It was great entertainment, and smart, thoughtful writing as well, despite the startling pyrotechnics that blasted my eardrums (I grow old).

The British do good history plays - and this one, with elements from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Coward's Cavalcade, and Brecht's - well, anything by Brecht - ends up feeling like good, solid Shaw: witty men and women hold forth on the issues of the day, as each decade is depicted shifting by new pop songs, and the latest dance craze ("dance to the music of time"). Macmillan is movingly portrayed by the great Jeremy Irons, and his youthful "echo" - the suitably Yeatsian double (Macmillan published Yeats, among other poets) by Pip Carter.

Political junkies will love the backroom boys, the deals, the power struggles (from Churchill outmaneuvering Chamberlain, to Eisenhower bullying over Suez). The love story (Macmillan was terminally cuckolded by his ballsy wife) is less convincing. What emerges is how significant Suez was for Britain ("goodbye British Empire") - and how forcefully (threatening to bankrupt England in three days) America turned its former ally into a panting lapdog in 1957. Poets and critics will no doubt note that Larkin's Little-Englander cultural ascendancy begins, in poetic terms, not with the Beatles' first LP, but with the humiliation of Anthony Eden six years before, when the Beats began their San Francisco rise. In many ways, Suez demanded an English poetry that would not kow-tow to American poetics, or diction - yet another reason for The Movement to have outgunned Dorn and Co., whose influence was always resisted in the UK, even as the avant-garde picked up on it.

Ultimately, Brenton portrays a leader, who, when he came to power, was too old, too "moral", too other-century, to fully appreciate it - Supermac quickly giving way to the fuddy-duddy cruelly mocked by Beyond The Fringe. His play documents a moment echoed in our own time: Brown is poised to be eclipsed by younger, more Zeitgeisty men (contrast Macmillan with the virile Kennedy across the pond) - Obama, perhaps, and surely Cameron. Power is portrayed as empty (Macmillan said power was a "dead sea fruit") - but the most desired thing. The men who chase it are therefore somewhat hollow themselves. What to make of the empires and nations built by such dead, nothing personages? What to make of "us", the common people, who dance in the halls shaped by such hollow historians?
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…