I saw the play I am looking for on this 9th of November in Banksy for the Wimp: Shakespeare Edition performed this year in an incredible production of the Donmar Warehouse directed by the artistic director of the house Josie Rourke. I sat, thanks to the magic of NTLive, in a movie theater here:
It once looked like this:
Fires burnt and windows shattered here too on November 9, 1938:
And then it looked like this:
They turned it into this:
Until 25 years ago today this happened:
The play I am looking for today couldn’t be better suited for this place since while it takes us back of the times of Ancient Rome it deals with democracy, misuse of the system, and the power of manipulation of the masses. On the one hand we have a successful general who only reluctantly runs for consul. He despises the plebeians and their expectation to have a say in the governing of Rome and really only does it for his mother – yeah, why else? On the other side stand two tribunes those role it was to protect the interests of the plebeians against the actions of the senate and the annual magistrate. They are professional politicians interested in their own position of power at least as much as in the needs and wishes of the people they represent. And they know exactly how to use them.
But the most important player in the arena isn’t named nor has it a single face. It is a ‘many-headed multitude’ – the people who’s vote the Roman general needs but who he despises for their lack of service to the state and the people who’s mouth and champion the tribunes are meant to be. In the Donmar production their voice was painted on a wall like it happened on the western side of the Berlin Wall or like it happens every day by street artist everywhere. And while democracy is the system that by definition means that this voice is what proposes, develops and establishes the laws by which their society is ruled, it is this voice that rules all societies because in the end no society works without people.
Like with everything there are problems attached to this voice starting with the question who is part of this voice and how does one deal with the fact that it will never be a homogenous choir. As snobbish and elitist as the Roman general might appear the question of service to the society vs. demands at it is a legit one. The voice might be dimmed or muted by threats (until it roars that is). But the biggest danger to the voice is posed by the voice itself – it is its proneness to manipulation. A leader of whatever kind that knows the voice behind him/her, knows how to play it, train it, tame it etc. is the most powerful one there is, while a leader who loses the voice will not be leader for long anymore.
In the play, while the general’s own words brought about his fall, it was because the tribunes incited the plebeians to start another riot that the general spoke the words in rage. In real life we should never forget that Hitler was democratically voted into office and used the laws an elected parliament had made to create the Third Reich. People believed into the regime or it wouldn’t have worked, just as people believed into the regime that built the Wall.
Until they didn’t. Until they took to the streets and tore the Wall down.
The same place. The same people. The same voice used to so different ends. What made the difference? In these days you hear a lot of people claiming that it was them from David Hasselhoff to an armada of politician. But I think it was the interest of the many-headed multitude for something beyond the self and daily life paired with knowledge and education. We were bombarded with propaganda – from the east just as from the west. Whether it was ‘Proletarians of all countries unite!’ or ‘Democracy is the power of the people through the people for the people.’ the part that seemed to have stuck was when you unite your voice will be heard and will move Walls. Our voice, our most sweet voice is the difference of changing things or being used.
Back to the play I’m looking for today. Do you know now what character Tom Hiddleston portrait at the Donmar Warhouse? Send an email until November 9, 2014 midnight EST to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check here for the rules and more about the contest/ art project.