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Sunday, 21 June 2009

How It Rained On The Lord of the Flies

Janusz.Korczak

I started to pen this on Friday 19 June - a day of steel-grey skies, biting winds and occasional showers. Saturday was absolutely horrible until late afternoon. But as I begin to write, it’s really not bad for mid-March. And while on Friday I heard a couple of women agree we were due for a decent weekend, yesterday, amid the sheeting rain and Manchester grime we saw an open-top tourist bus plying its trade. Where to, for Heaven’s sake?

This is the year that the men from the UK Met Office – now boasting a computer the size of Wales – used their amoeboid brains to give us a good long-range summer forecast. No wonder the weather’s gone to rack and ruin.

Nor am I surprised that the last woolly mammoth was seen round here a mere 14,000 years ago. I bet he left in a huff only when he realised he’d been knitted by my Grandma Dora - who never followed a pattern - and he got fed up of struggling to get his chest on over his head.

Friday was also the day that still sillier boffins, using ‘SUPER’ computers, gave us more dire warnings about the effects of global change 70 years hence. Most of them won’t be around to receive the universal derision they’ll deserve.Three score years and ten was once considered the span of an average man’s life, not the timing of a flood warning.

Yesterday we also learned that school children are no longer to be taught standard spelling by employing useful rhymes like “’i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’” as the rule has so many exceptions. Of course it’s far too hard for teachers to explain the pitfalls of the English language – so let’s make it a Health and Safety issue instead:

‘Don’t run in the corridor – or God forbid in the playground – always wear goggles to pin a poster to a wall – and don’t ever, ever learn how to spell – it’ll make your brain hurt’.

So that was the past two days. On Thursday I schlepped into Manchester, was rash enough to go without a coat and felt desperately cold the second I left home. I didn’t dare go back for one in case I missed the bus into town. So I arrived at the Royal Exchange Theatre far too early only to discover the Press team wasn’t absolutely sure whether to expect me.

(Next time maybe I’ll impersonate the Jewish Chronicle’s John Nathan, although that’ll probably mean I’d receive a frosty reception from Lesley Joseph should I ever be invited to interview her . So that sounds like even more bad weather!)

After that, the only way was up – sort of.

I was at the theatre on behalf of Jewish Renaissance magazine whose lovely editor, Janet Levin, asked me to review Dr Korczak’s Example.

The job gave me an hour of near-excruciating emotional pain as this remarkable three-hander, which had returned to the RET after a gap of barely 12 months, evoked a tiny world filled with few props and less scenery, but laden with famished fear, unrelieved misery and knowing that certain death is near.

Dr Janusz Korczak was a popular Polish children’s writer and paediatrician, who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto and who elected to go to Treblinka with his young charges, even though he was offered a last-minute reprieve for himself.

He was also a pioneer of children’s rights whose work became a blueprint for the United Nations’ Declaration of Children’s Rights.

The play gives us a man of enormous moral courage and physical stamina who, I believe, sustains himself by viewing the world through the eyes of a wise child.

That may have been – and may still be – the problem. The toughest lesson I’ve ever seen modern teenagers try to tackle is the hoary old standard “…with rights go responsibilities.” My generation of boring middle-agers seems to have been the last to have been weaned on this truism - along with fearful respect for their elders.

But back to the play, one of whose early scenes stayed with me more vividly even than the finale.

I’m thinking of brutalised, street-wise orphan ‘Adzio’ (Craig Vye) who spends forever battling with a pesky fly. Finally, he wins and gives his adversary a new life, not only by ’ennobling’ him with fine titles and high praise but by calling himself ‘Fly’.

This early 21st century – with teenage murders by the dozen - sees us living in a scenario with which William Golding would be all too familiar.

The title of Golding’s earliest and perhaps most celebrated novel is said to be a reference to the Hebrew name Beelzebub (בעל זבוב, Ba'al-zvuv, "god of the fly", "host of the fly" or literally "Lord of Flies"), a name sometimes used as a synonym for the Christian idea of Satan.

That’s the trouble with idealists like Korczak. They reach reality only to see their high-minded theories evaporate inside the bubble where they were created. The rest is well-intentioned chaos.

As it’s 00.33 a.m. on Sunday 21 June UK BST I’ll wish you all goodnight!

msniw

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