The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
Watching this was more akin to witnessing a Catholic propaganda-cum-morality play in the Vatican rather than a performance at the National Theatre.
The protagonist of Tirso de Molina's Damned By Despair is the pious hermit Paulo, determined to find God's grace and the key to heaven.
He is persuaded by the devil he thinks is an angel to seek out and emulate Enrico, an inveterate gangster and murderer living in Naples.
But it's the latter who finds redemption through filial love for his aged father, whom he'd previously robbed and impoverished to finance his gambling.
He is, in the end, hanged. In a glorious apotheosis, after jerking realistically on the end of the rope as it tightens around his neck, he is hauled up to heaven on the end of the noose.
Unsurprisingly, after such heavenly injustice, Paulo despairs of God's grace and is condemned to hell.
De Molina, priest and playwright, was a contemporary of Shakespeare during the "golden age" of Spanish drama.
But he lacks the Elizabethan dramatist's poetic flair, dramatic sense, profound humanity and ability to create complex characters.
This banal morality tale, in a new version by Frank McGuinness, is one of plaster figurines with no modern relevance whatsoever.
It would have been better left gathering dust in the archives.
It has no real dramatic storyline, being mere religious agit-prop, and the actors are unable to provide even temporary relief from the grim catechism.
The acting is surprisingly uncharismatic and and the vocal delivery often indistinct - dialects range from Irish to Scottish, making clarity even more of a problem.
Enrico comes across more like a student rowdy than a Salvatore Giuliano and Paulo is a colourless fanatic.
The only redeeming aspect of the production is the superb set, a modernist triptych by Giles Cadle with echoes of El Greco's paintings.
As I left the theatre I expected a confessional at the door and to be plunged into fire and brimstone.
Thankfully the seductive lights of night-time London beckoned instead.
Runs until December 15. Box office: (020) 7452-3000.
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.
Donate to the Fighting Fund here