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
Anthony Sher's performance as a conman in a classic satire on bureaucracy
Think Oh! What A Lovely War and The Good Soldier Schweyk rolled into one.
Adrian Noble's fast-paced and evocative recreation of Prussian Berlin in Carl Zuckmayer's Captain Of Kopenick is ensemble theatre at its best. It's very firmly in the tradition of Brecht and Littlewood.
First produced in Germany in 1931 the play, ridiculing Prussian military bureaucracy and subservience to authority, is based on real events at the turn of the last century.
It was then that Wilhelm Voigt, a cobbler with a history of petty crime, was prevented from residing in Berlin where he could find work because he has no ID papers. Without them he doesn't exist in the eyes of the authorities and he can't find a job or a place to live.
His solution is to buy a captain's uniform from a fancy-dress shop after which he audaciously commandeers a small group of soldiers, ordering them to march on the town hall where he hopes to get the necessary papers and so end his Catch-22 situation.
Although the real sequence of events was less heroic than portrayed in the play, Voigt's exploits caused widespread hilarity throughout Germany. Although sentenced to jail, the Kaiser bowed to the pressure of public outrage and pardoned him.
The inured Prussian spirit lambasted by Zuckmayer led irrevocably to the first world war and made Hitler's rise to power possible.
Yet the writer implies that an alternative was possible with a scene of a workers' demonstration and the singing of the Internationale.
That alternative found its expression in the short-lived 1918 November revolution in Germany and the establishment of the Berlin and Munich soviets.
Antony Sher, with Chaplinesque panache, gives a bravura performance as Voigt that captures the tragi-comic quintessence of the part - the small, downtrodden working man who puts one over on the Establishment.
A superb Expressionist backdrop of the metropolis and scratchy recordings of Berlin cabaret songs of the period set the scene to perfection. The choreography is planned and executed with military precision and the production makes imaginative use of pop-up sets and the revolving stage to great effect. Ron Hutchinson's new English translation eloquently captures the tragicomic nuances of the satire.
In the end though the impression is that while Zuckmayer's play would have struck a strong chord among its German audience of the 1930s it is hardly relevant for a British audience today - it was last produced in London six decades ago.
Despite the superb theatrical entertainment one has to ask why this play has been chosen here and now.
Runs until April 4. Box office: (020) 7452-3000.
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