Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Enough already

To the Globe Theatre for the revolution. Or two revolutions, to be precise: the American and the French. A New World, Trevor Griffiths’ account of the ‘life and loves’ of Tom Paine (that well-known printing error, as the play reminds us – the ‘e’ was a misspelling), is all the more compelling because the audience is so sparse and the actors seem to be playing to us personally.

There’s no one at all up in the gods and only three of us in our lower gallery bay – half as many as made it to the great radical’s famously ill-attended funeral. Abandoned by his erstwhile admirers for his denunciation of organised religion, the man whose pamphlet Common Sense sold 150,000 copies in its first printing (in a country whose population was less than two million) died and was buried in obscurity. I hope Griffiths’ play, which finishes its run on 9 October, doesn’t suffer the same fate.

I suspect the low attendance when I saw it was due to the mass abandonment of London, if you weren’t going to the Notting Hill Carnival, over the August bank holiday. This is the best time to be in the capital, with school closures and other holidays taking up to a quarter of the traffic off the roads and reducing the population by an unmissed million or more. For a little while, you can breathe and you get a sense of why the latest population projections, published in the week before the bank holiday, are such bad news, despite what some would have us believe.

There are now 61.4 million of us in the UK, two million more than in 2001, with most of that increase crowded into the little corner of our island that includes London. We’re on course to hit 70 million within a generation. You don’t have to be a racist banging on about immigration to think that’s enough.

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