2019 will be a momentous one. The country is rife with division over Brexit and we still don’t know how that is going to be decided, this uncertainty could take months if not years to resolve. So it is an interesting time to be alive!
The complexities of Brexit, and why people voted the way they did in June 2016 could well be linked to the austerity policy adopted by the coalition government of 2010 to 2015 and since continued by the Conservative government under Theresa May. Despite Theresa May making the claim in recent months that austerity would be coming to an end, there is no evidence that is the case. The cuts to services by local authorities, the trebling of tuition fees, the average fall in wages since the financial crash of 2008 have all contributed to the lack of a feel good factor which ultimately culminated in a referendum by David Cameron in 2016 which led to the Brexit vote. Europe was the fall guy here, inadvertently blamed by some for Britain’s internal problems created by government policy. The policy of austerity indirectly affected the way politics is not only conducted in this country since 2010 but throughout the continent of Europe as well over the last nine years. Countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain have felt the full weight of austerity and recession or lack of growth affecting youth employment.
Therefore, during a period of national difficulty or constitutional crisis, the arts can be at its most fertile as musicians, composers and playwrights produce material which reflects the times we live, it is vital for the arts to be prominent in times like these. This is where the Austerity Playbook comes in. The Austerity Playbook held its London premiere on 18 January at the Hoxton Hall, in Hoxton street, in Hoxton……Performed more as a musical than a play on this particular night with twelve short scenes, it was an extravaganza featuring nine musicians on stage and supported by the Dende Company of Elders who performed the role of a vociferous crowd off stage right next to the audience. An interesting concept which surprisingly has not been explored before to my knowledge, The Austerity Playbook takes a satirical look at a town in the north east of England where the local authority decides to sanction lots of cuts to services and budgets over an extensive period. Fini Bearman played the Council Leader forcing through cuts whilst encouraging residents to meet the shortfall by volunteering their time to bridge the gap and keep some services going. Juliet Kelly doubled up as a Librarian, Georgia Van Etten was the Community Support worker and Luca Manning played an Eastern European immigrant. The Dende Company of Elders performed the role of a rowdy crowd chanting “Save Our Services” at civic meetings. It might well be satirical and amusing but a lot of the subject matter was pretty close to the bone.
Considering the subject matter is quite complex, it should not come as any surprise that it involved a lot of collaboration to put the project together. The play was written by Mark O’Thomas, who used research by two Professors of Accounting; Professor Laurence Ferri of Durham University and Ileana Steccolini of Newcastle University. Andre Pink took care of the Direction, knitting five musicians and four singers on stage with the Dende Company of Elders off it, and finally music was written by JLR’s Andrea Vicari. Professor Ferri told me that “the motivation was to show the impacts that central government austerity based budget cuts have on the lives of everyday citizens and the resilience of local government and communities to deal with the implications.” “Austerity is a policy choice to deal with budget pressures. In the case of the UK it has arguably went on far too long and undoubtedly is causing a multitude of problems for local government and citizens.” Professor Steccolini furthered that austerity “rather than solving problems, has created new ones. Our effort, as researchers, was to try to point out the critical issues related to austerity, but also identify possible solutions, valid not only in the short, but also the long term.”
The musical was fun to watch and it would be good if they get commissioned to perform the play / musical around the country over the coming months. The ending did have a somewhat unresolved feel to it; and that is where we are at right now as a country, as there is no let up despite Theresa May’s claim that austerity is coming to an end.
Fini Bearman – singer / Council Leader turns Labour MP
Juliet Kelly – singer / Librarian
Georgia Van Etten – singer / Community Support Officer
Luca Manning – singer / Eastern European Immigrant
Andrea Vicari – keyboards / composer
Dorian Lockett – bass
Caroline Scott – Drums
Andy Davies – Trumpet / Narrator
Chelsea Carmichael – Saxophone
Photographs by Leandro Dacundo