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,
Italian playwright Dario Fo won the Nobel prize for literature in 1997 for "scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."
Can't Pay? Won't Pay! does precisely that in this version by Joseph Farrell, transposed from '70s Milan to contemporary Romford. No wonder the Vatican and the Wall Street Journal waxed indignant at Fo's Nobel award.
In this delirious scenario housewife Antonia (Georgina Field) is persuaded by an anarchist student to "liberate" a trolley full of food during a mass riot at a supermarket against intolerable price rises in the Essex town.
Her desperation to hide the acquired goods from law-abiding former Ford shop steward husband John (Simon Jessop) is thwarted as the house is turned over by the police.
The absurdist comedy is unrelenting as the gas and electricity is cut-off too and a repossession order looms.
That farce is rooted in the tradition of commedia dell'arte which in Italy has always been popular for its satiric, anti-authoritarian sentiments and Farrell's introduction of local references entirely matches Fo's spirit and intention.
It delights the audience throughout as they are goaded, pantomime-style, to support left or right agendas as the interaction between actors and audience builds.
At one point John, a road-sweeping Hammers fan, is desperately hungry but uneasy about the edibility of a nicked tin of dog food. He seeks the advice of the audience by conducting smelling tests. To the accompaniment of mass belly laughter, it's decided it only needs an extra twist of lemon.
Minicab driver Lol gets a huge cheer as he tells us that - pissed-off by their bragging about bonuses - he's just left two rail executives on a motorway hard shoulder.
Police harassment, riots next door in Tottenham and bills they cannot pay will not keep them down as their growing understanding of their predicament turns into defiance and, in one final stab at "grand theory," John asks Lol if he's ever come across Marx.
Lol thinks he means Groucho's films and it is left to John to explain, in appropriately philosophical mode, that Marx correctly predicted the fall of capitalism but did not foresee that it would fall on people like themselves.
Under Bob Carlton's inspired direction, the cast excels. There's impeccable comic timing aided by a superb grasp of the physical demands of farce, at which Georgina Field stands out.
Bouquets to the Queen's for getting the timing of this production spot-on. It surely merits a national tour.
Runs until March 31. Box office: (01708) 443-333.