I’m re-rehearsing Wot? No Fish!! ready for shows in Birmingham and Battersea in July. As I take out their ketubah (marriage contract), I realise that Celie and Ab were married 90 years ago today.
1936: 10 years after their wedding – is three months before the Battle of Cable Street.
1946: 20 years after – the war is over just over a year. There’s rationing, austerity and a Labour government committed to building a welfare state.
1956: 30 years after – Look Back in Anger is on at the Royal Court and Elvis (Presley) is in the charts. The Conservative Party is in turmoil over Suez and a weak PM’s days are numbered.
1966: 40 years after – England is about to embark on a successful World Cup campaign and Barclays introduces a new thing in the UK called a ‘credit card’.
1976: 50 years after – There’s the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising – a key moment in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Also, Britain and Iceland have a cod war…
1986: 60 years after – Celie has been dead for five and a half years. Ab dies in 1986. The Labour Party is in turmoil – Derek Hatton, Deputy-leader of Liverpool City Council is expelled for being a member of the ‘Militant Tendency’.
1996: 70 years after – England lose in a penalty shoot-out to Germany at Euro 1996. John Taylor is made the first Black Conservative peer (later jailed for false accounting).
2006: 80 years after – George W Bush is caught talking informally to Tony Blair. Starting with “Yo, Blair!”, they discuss Syria and other global/Middle-east issues. The Stern Review into climate change is published, recommending that emissions trading schemes, like the one operating across the EU, should be expanded and linked.
And then there’s today … 2016 …
The central metaphor for Wot? No Fish!! is that history doesn’t work as either a straight line of continuous progress nor as a circle, where history is doomed to repeat itself. History works as a helix; like a spiral staircase. You think you’re back in the same place, but you’re not: things have slightly shifted.
Today I fear the rise of racism and fascism, the scar of the 20th Century, revisiting the 21st.
Political parties are absorbed in internal conflicts; mediated so it’s difficult for the populace to separate heroes from narcissists.
Global issues are both far away and on our doorstep.
Families feel insecure, but loving relationships provide meaning and foundation to people’s lives.
And I will be telling this story again – for something like the 120th time. I hope to draw audiences in to Ab and Celie’s intimate world; knowing that every time I tell it, the story helps me to make some sense of my own journey up that spiral staircase.