Last week I went to Hamlet
, a play I first discovered at school a long time ago. The problem is that the text has been mined by countless writers since, and at times, especially if learning a soliloquy or three, was part of one's education. It can be like sitting listening to a dictionary of quotations.
Each time the Dane communes with himself, one starts to recall those half-forgotten lines.
This Hamlet was Cush Jumbo in a production running at the Young Vic in London which should have appeared before the pandemic. Who she? Vera
watchers will remember her as the clever copper who got killed when she went alone to meet someone nobody suspected until it was too late. If the pandemic has done nothing, it has ensured there are a lot of repeats of Vera
to watch. Jumbo has, of course, played other roles in the likes of The Good Wife
on television and this return to the theatre was much anticipated.
Women playing men or men's roles these days is commonplace but her Hamlet is different in that sex is irrelevant. She creates a selfish, upset, and petulant student who does not see the damage done and does not care – not a gloomy Dane moping about the family seat because mummy has married his uncle.
Next up was the Scottish play, which I first saw when at school. Wishaw High, which was ambitious, staged a performance to which we were taken. It was hilarious from the moment the three witches appeared but it still worked as a powerful piece of theatre. That play too has its quotation hurdles to be got over, but this latest production's hurdle was that they chose to adopt Scottish accents, possibly because James McArdle, a force of nature, was playing the thane who became king and fought viciously to survive Glasgow fashion when those folk from Dunsinane arrived. At times, the 'Scottish' accents – not all the cast were Scots – rather obscured the verse. There had been some chopping and changing but it worked.
One can watch a lot of good acting sitting in front of a television set but it does not compare to being part of a live audience seeing something being created before one's eyes. Of course, the Young Vic or the Almeida are not accessible if you live in Lanark like I did way back, but then the Citizens certainly was available – and so was Wishaw High. Theatre is more than big West End musicals. It is the places that perform things tourists don't go to that are at risk so if you can get out – masked or unmasked, in most venues the decision seems to be up to you – do so.
The last few weeks have seen parts of the media quoting comments about Christmas being 'ruined by the shortage of truckers', or 'cancelled for the lack of CO2'. It is indeed good when we can have festivities for family and friends, but 'Christmas' has become shorthand for the peak spending spree of consumerism. Black Friday attracts the most reactions from clickbait – as internet surfers are termed – and footfall determines the best locations to bring 'joy to the mall'.
Words change their meaning. For example, if I got a 'cool' reception from a teacher I knew that my essay wasn't very good. Now to be invited to a 'cool' party is the in-thing. But while Christmas may have changed its meaning for those whose worldview is determined purely in financial terms, the original and authentic Christmas is concerned rather with 'joy to them all'.
Global consequences will emerge as a result of the forthcoming COP26 conference. This is in line with the original Christmas. In it, the cosmic God of the universe opted into a troubled world with the introduction: 'I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people'. This global note ties in with the agenda of COP26, for ecology is the (often belated) application of the biblical principle of stewardship, and the note of loving one's neighbour as we are all in the global village, with some of our neighbours being in low-lying islands.
Contamination and pollution are words highlighting what is happening in the oceans. But 'the deeper you go, the darker it gets' to quote from BBC's recent Vigil
programme. When we go deeper and analyse the problems, it is clear that the dark driver of much discussion is 'how will this affect me
?' People often make fun of the word 'sin' as something naughty but nice in which unfortunately we have been caught! However central to sIn
is the middle letter, the big I … a global 'ME', the personal and political selfishness which contaminates, pollutes and poisons.
The original Christmas records the intervention of the cosmic God to deal with this contamination of people, providing an antidote to the poison of selfishness. The love of Christ was not cosmetic, as proven by the cross. Similarly, the Christmas intervention is not cosmetic. It leads to an operational change in motivation in our stewardship of the Earth, and a worldview which includes love of our neighbour. Rather than 'joy to the mall', COP26 highlights the need to replicate in the public arena a worldview which leads to 'joy to them all'.
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