Guest Blog: Jeremy Goldstein On TRUTH TO POWER CAFE
"See me through my eyes, or don't see me at all" says Liam Jamie Harrison, a male trans participant speaking up in public for the very first time. Liam spoke as one of 12 participants in an epic edition of Truth to Power Café in the spectacular Hull Minster on Saturday night.
Liam's words typify experiences, including my own, of more than 200 participants who've taken part in the show to date in four countries. Taking part is a moment to express our true selves, to name what might be unconscious or tough to acknowledge, and to mobilise ourselves and society around change.
Truth to Power Café is a new international performance event combining memoir, poetry, music, image, and live and spontaneous testimony from local participants (or heroes, as I prefer to call them), in response to the question: "Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?".
It's inspired by the philosophical and political beliefs of Harold Pinter and his Hackney Gang. The Hackney Gang included my late father Mick Goldstein, and the poet and actor Henry Woolf, who at 89 is the last surviving member, and whose original poetry I perform in the show as the real-life son of the Hackney Gang.
When my father died in 2013, I remember reading the words 'truth to power' in his obituary. That was when I got in touch with Henry. I wanted to know more about their lives, more about that ballet between them, and why those words had become so important to Harold, Mick and the rest of the Gang. Henry said that in the 1950s they were a bunch of solipsist survivors, larking about the East End of London, their lives central to the workings of the universe.
As a Gang, they saw the first performances of Beckett's Waiting for Godot at the Arts Theatre in London, and Henry directed Harold's first play The Room, appearing in the production in Bristol as the original Mr. Kidd. Harold even captured their lives in his one and only novel The Dwarfs, basing the lead character of Len on my father Mick.
In 2014, a lifetime of letters between the Gang had been acquired and placed on public record by the Harold Pinter Archive at the British Library in London. Reading the letters was a revelation. For the first time, I was able to meet my father as a young man - the man I never knew. This in itself helped me come to terms with what was always a very difficult relationship between us, and in doing so, Truth to Power Café became a love letter to the memory of my father Mick, and his friends of 60 years, Harold and Henry.
Harold Pinter's plays (for me at least) have always been about power and occupation, so when I think of the question we ask our participants - "Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?" - I often wonder what Stanley from The Birthday Party would have said to his oppressors Goldberg and McCann.
Of course, we will never know the answer, but what I do know is this: participants taking part in the show, like Liam, believe - as I do - in the transformative power of the word, and the artist's responsibility to tell it like it is. Nightly standing ovations from audiences suggest they're with us all the way. After all, if you're not telling the truth in the theatre, you have no business in being there.
Blow our trumpets, angels!
Truth to Power Café is directed by Jen Heyes. Participants' stories appear online with photo portraits by Sarah Hickson. To take part or to book tickets for this year's UK tour, visit truthtopower.co.uk
Photos: Sarah Hickson