‘The Riots’ at the Tricycle

I think the Tories would have cut the arts even without the banking crisis because they believe in philanthropy, which is completely wrongheaded,” Nicolas Kent, outgoing Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre.

Reviews are appearing for the Tricycle Theatre’s ‘The Riots‘, which opened last week. The Riots is the latest of the ‘Tribunal Plays’ at the theatre, which “take verbatim testimonies from headline-grabbing stories and turns them into drama.” (BBC)

Time Out says “it is striking that everyone who is involved in ‘The Riots’ has a different take on them… But the strongest theme which emerges is greed. As [actor Cyril] Nri points out, ‘Some of the MPs calling for tough sentences claimed thousands of pounds on expenses. What’s the difference between nicking a flatscreen TV from Curry’s or claiming for it illegally? Greed is the dynamic underlying principle of capitalism, and a culture of greed unrestrained created our bankers’ high stakes gamble on everyone’s futures and our MPs inflated expense claims, just as it motivated the looters nicking carpets, shoes and white goods.”

None of this is novel from a Buddhist viewpoint, of course: greed is one of the three ‘poisons‘ that, according to the Dharma, are the source of all suffering – and not just that caused by capitalism. The root poison, though, is delusion or ignorance. We ignore the fact that we are mutually dependent on each other for all of our needs, and that one of our deepest wishes is for creative, meaningful connection – for community, in short – as well as for freedom.

EF Schumacher, author of Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered (how we need that sub-title today!) once wrote, according to Robert McCrum, that “we always need both freedom and order.” It seems to me that we have over-emphasised the first half of this equation – the pursuit of individuality and self interest over collective endeavour – for far too long. As the late, great Tony Judt put it, in Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents: “For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.”

I moved to Kilburn, where the Tricycle is located, in 1997. One of my first memories after moving there was of watching a youthful Tony Blair walking into Number 10 after Labour’s victory. This seems to be our political pattern, lurching from a party supposedly symbolising greater individual freedom to one advocating greater intervention by the state as a means of ordering our society. In fact, both of the main parties have left the fundamental – and fundamentalist – materialist, individualistic illusion largely untouched for a generation, and it is partly for this reason that we find ourselves where we are, with cuts, riots, protests, strikes, a deeply unstable economy and a shaky sense of community.

Until we find a way of individually and collectively transcending the distinction between order and freedom – which is ultimately illusory – we need to find a way of countering the individualism that we see all around us. How to do this? By supporting those spaces that bring people and ideas together – including our theatres, libraries and independent bookshops and publishers, as well as the all-new Bank of Ideas – and by standing up for collective action underpinned by Buddhist ethics, whether at a local, national or European level. Going to see ‘The Riots’, getting involved in one of the talkback sessions afterwards and opposing the government’s ‘wrong-headed‘ view of philanthropy in the arts would seem to me to be a good start. Share

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2 Responses to “‘The Riots’ at the Tricycle”

  1. Manjusiha says:

    from my friend Tim: “Thanks for this. I think it is EXCELLENT. Very well written, very thoughtful and inspiring, and I like the whole look of the site too. I will follow what you write. Bloody good work I say!”

  2. Jed says:

    You have written about the heart of the matter – greed. Good to see the Dharma and current affairs on the same page! Thoughtful and offers next steps and link – I like it, alot.


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