Arts: Julie & Karl: absolutely radical

It was almost like the good old bad old days. Jane Fonda wasn't there, but Julie Christie flew the Red Flag for the 150th anniversary of Marx's `Communist Manifesto'.

THIS is a night of hope, a night of renewal, I am thinking to myself as I tentatively approach the seething entrance to the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, that Thirties temple of radical thinking.

Yes, here they all are, hundreds of them, the old street-fighting, leftie theoreticians of yesteryear, gathered together on this balmy Saturday night - and what better weather could one imagine than this for an imaginative re-run of the great proletarian project? - to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first publication of the Communist Manifesto.

I can hardly get through them all, all these cheerily persistent paper- thrusters, pamphlet pushers, pamphlet penners, radical newspaper sellers, leftie booksellers. Makeshift book stalls have been erected in the street to advertise the latest from the magical Merlin Press - the Socialist Register, for example, an annual collection of essays, which was first published in the early Sixties and dreams on to this day.

Every copy, whether this year's or the year before the year before last's, is on sale at pounds 10. This can mean only one thing: there is no such thing as a remaindered book to the leftist publisher. An old book becomes an instant and highly collectable classic, steeped in the wisdom of yesteryear.

A smiling Iraqi gentleman thrusts a copy of a Communist Party manifesto into my face. I ask him whether this is the real Communist Party or some fractiously spiteful splinter group. He smiles at me engagingly. "We are the fact Communist Party," he replies. And then, with great attention to detail, he hands over six sheets of A4 paper which bristle with exclamation marks, every one a deadly taunt to the faint of heart: "Workers! Freedom Loving People! Parties, Political and Mass Organisations and all those who defend Political Freedom and Human Rights!"

Sad to say, many of the freedom-loving people gathered here tonight for this morale-boosting occasion are extremely delicate looking. I count at least one zimmer frame, several hearing aids, various wheelchairs, and many, many stout sticks, often awkward to skirt around without causing distressing destabilisation. There are cliquey, antique Hampstead radicals, linen-jacketed, bow-tied, with vile bourgeois accents and impeccable theoretical positions; there is the harshly laughing man in the much-unwashed "Smash the Poll Tax" t-shirt. Those ancient, haunting words set within a workers' blood-red, hammer-and-sickle design.

There is every conceivable variety of that aggressive Sixties' addiction to the death of fashion: sloppy Joe jumpers, tired, shapeless nylon jackets; those near-hollow, shit-brown tubes that once passed for trousers; the sagging holdalls worn transverse across the chest; loud checked shirts; beer-paunch enhancing T-shirts long since edging off from white to grey; the grizzled beard; the short man in the absurdly long, shabby green corduroy jacket... do I see a suit anywhere?

What a ridiculous notion! Did not the suit wither away of its own accord in those days, having lost - like capitalism itself - all sense of purpose or occasion? Yes, there is no denying the overall sense of excitement at the fact that they are all here together again, all these old men with shining eyes, recycling their long-ago triumphs in half-forgotten theoretical skirmishes. So much so, in fact, that it is quite difficult to squeeze one's way past and into the hall itself for the great evening of collective remembrancing.

The lights go off and on, on and off. Then on again. And then, all of a sudden, there is a great blast of martial music. Images of defining and heart-stirring proletarian moments, the Paris barricades; the Vietnam war; an image of Liberty; Marx and his family - are flashed on to the vast screen that sits amidst all the rest of the clutter on the stage.

Then something a little odder flashes up, the words "A Newt Was Not Born in a Day". Followed, of course, by two images of a smiling, foxy Red Ken. A tremendous cheer goes up, sticks are thrust vertically into the air, over and over again, like some primitive pumping mechanism. Then John Saville shuffles on, bald, hawkish in profile, anciently professorial, one of the Founding Fathers of the Socialist Register.

"Comrades and friends," he begins, and then continues, with inimitable socialist eloquence, gripping the mike like a man lashed to the tiller in a hard gale, "How pleasing it is to see a lot of us as against them..."

Saville is a man who occasionally forgets a fact - a name, a date - in that precise instant before he is due to deliver it.

No matter. The audience knows it anyway, no matter how obscure. He refers to a certain "Dr Marx" as if he is an honorary member of the household. Then he speaks of the hallowed document itself, how it is "relevant to our situation in every jot and tittle..." "Here! Here!" responds the eager audience, already in revivalist mood.

Next, the compere, Roland Muldoon, founder of the Hackney Empire, breezes on, a man of casually affable, barrow-boy manner. Pushing his way past a table piled high with bottles and glasses, he opens a door at the back of the stage and calls out: "We're ready..."

Various actors and actresses stream out, clutching black folders, and proceed to read from a tremendously long script about the birth of the Great Movement, the writing of the manifesto, the revolutions of 1848, and other pertinent matters. Tony Garnett, sombre, if not subdued, as he reads about the revolt of the Silesian weavers, is wearing a well lived in pair of denims and the tokenist red shirt. The actresses - Jaquetta May, Maggie Steed and Harriet Walter - look, by contrast, heads angled just so, be-ringed hands feeling for the jewellery at their necks, blasphemously statuesque and aggressively anti-proletarian - as if they have been too much mindful of their appearances for the evening's good. As if they are, perhaps, mere hired voices. It is at this point that I fall asleep.

When I wake up, the Raised Voices Choir - two dozen earnest men and women in red T-shirts - is singing a tremendously rousing piece about some strike at a Massachusetts textile mill. One of the women is clutching a pretty, docile baby to her chest. The female conductor with the wet-look ringlets, spectacles steaming with concentration, seems to be making alarming fist- fucking gestures in the direction of her singers. I close my eyes again, momentarily alarmed.

When I next wake up, as if by magic, Julie Christie is swinging across the stage in a well-tailored blue - blue? blue! - suit and brilliant white tennis shoes, clutching some bits of paper. She makes a characteristically actressy meal of a couple of indifferent poems by Pablo Neruda that I have been reading ever since in memory of this precious occasion. One of them is about the Standard Oil Company.

When a photographer, crouching beside the stage, clicks his camera, she swivels in his direction and plonks a gorgeous arm on her hip. Her white shirt is open at the neck, though chastely so. The spots are playing on, maybe teasing with, her oh-so-carefully tousled blonde highlights. At this moment, I feel radical stirrings that I had not expected to feel, not on such a night as this. I think I may need a little urgent medication, Dr Marx.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

    £16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map