The play's the thing...

…. at least according to my fellow Warwickshire man William Shakespeare, it is, and that’s good because there are several theatrical things getting a mention in this post. First off, there’s “Mums” at the Soho Theatre in … er, Soho, central London. This is on tonight and it’s for one night only. So strictly for last-minute Londoners only, but make a note of it for future reference. It’s about the mothers of Russian soldiers deployed to Chechnya. To me it sounds rather like that Russia film Alexandra by the brilliant director Aleksander Sokurov (a feisty grandmother goes to find her grandson in amongst the tents and tanks of his regiment in the war zone. Not mothers of the disappeared, but grandmothers of the deployed …). “Mums” is being put on with Amnesty support and people are being asked to take action for Ibragim Gazdiev, seized by armed men in Ingushetia in 2007 and not seen since. (If you’re not able to make it to the play please still do the online action for Ibragim here). Meanwhile, two more plays for your consideration, both on Radio 4. On 26 February there’s “After The Accident”, a dramatisation of what it’s like to be parents meeting someone responsible for the death of your daughter. It’s emerged from Amnesty’s very own “Protect the Human” playwriting competition and should, I’m reliably informed, be good. It’s the 9pm “Friday play”: stick it in your iPhone diary (or equivalent device/desk diary/wall calendar!).  And a few days earlier (on 20 Feb) there’s the rather mind-boggling prospect of the former Tardis occupant David Tennant taking on the role of the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. Murray, you may remember, caused huge diplomatic ructions seven or eight years ago when he publicly lambasted the Uzbek government over the torture of its political prisoners and also criticised the UK for being prepared to rely on intelligence derived from those tortured. The play’s directed by David Hare and is liable to make a few decidedly juicy points about the unpleasant reality of hardnosed diplomatic trade-offs. Meanwhile Murray himself has a nice line about the casting, saying: “Of course, David Tennant is not really good looking enough to play me, but it’ll be OK on radio.” As it happens, Uzbekistan and the arts are also currently a concern to Amnesty in the case of the Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova. She’s due to stand trial for supposedly “defaming” the country’s good name with a book of photographs of people in the streets, working, begging, generally hanging out. Check out her – excellent – photos here. (They remind me of the superb film Palms about Moldova – a world populated by the destitute, disabled and desperate: an amazing work). Film-makers, actors, photographers and playwrights don’t usually interest the authorities, except when politicians fancy schmoozing a few creatives. But as we tend to notice over here at Amnesty, in many places if you get on the wrong side of the system with your art you could end up in big trouble.  Back in the day Shakespeare himself tended to keep his head down, but in “Hamlet” the prince’s pompous lecture to the dumbshow players about theatre and representation contained an ominous warning about how he – the future king – gets offended if he hears “a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters”. Offended? Fine. But putting people on trial for unflattering photos? Now that’s just fictional stuff, right? 

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