‘When the Revolution Comes’: Ideological Indoctrination vs. Individual Identity in Caryl Churchill’s Lights Shining In Buckinghamshire and Mad Forest
Dr. Mamata Sengupta teaches English at Islampur College, West Bengal. She has done her doctoral research on the plays of Caryl Churchill and her M. Phil research on the plays of Arnold Wesker. Presently she is engaged in a Minor Research Project on the Post War British Theatre. Her areas of specialization and research interest include Performance Studies, Audience Reception Studies, Orality and Folkloristics, and Gender Studies.
The word ‘ideology’ roughly translates into a set of doctrines that reflects the social, cultural, economic, religious, political or philosophical needs and aspirations of an individual or a group. Ideology, therefore, forms the basis of an institution wherein the ideas of the dominant social group are prescribed and promoted for the perpetuation of the group’s hegemonic control on others. In the present paper, I shall deal with two plays of Caryl Churchill i.e. Light Shining in Buckinhamshire (1976) and Mad Forest (1990) with a view to highlighting how the state ideologies attempt to condition, cajole and/or coerce individuals to conform to its parameters of thought, action and behaviour. I shall also try to show how the characters of the two plays desperately attempt to overthrow the respective ideological hegemonies of their states i.e. Britain and Romania, and thereby ultimately assert their own individual identities.
Keywords: Ideology, State, Power, Hegemony, Identity.
Right from its inception as a socio-political institution, the State has operated as a machinery of and a tool for fulfilling the socially dominant group’s desire to access, mediate and control both the human and the non-human/natural resources. The way a man’s self and all its projections are perceived and assessed by the state, needless to say, is shaved and determined by certain preset ideas about what man is and what a man ought to be. These ideas of identity perception and identity assessment, taken together with both ideational and repressive methods and processes of controlling the same, become the constitutive factors of a state’s preferred ideology. In the present paper, I shall deal with two of Caryl Churchill’s plays i.e. Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976) and Mad Forest (1990) with a view to highlighting the interface of ideology and identity. Efforts will be made to see how ideological indoctrination causes severe damage to the individual identities of people who are made to put up with it. I shall also try to show how the suffering individuals ultimately become able to resist and neutralize these damaging forces.
Set against the English Civil War of the 17th century, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is the product of a three week Joint Stock workshop with Max Stafford Clark. The play is divided into two acts and was first performed on September 7, 1976 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, under the direction of Stafford-Clark himself. While the decidedly political stance practiced by the Joint Stock writers and actors gave the play its unique vision of history as a product of politicized thinking, Churchill’s association with the Monstrous Regiment made her include, perhaps for the first time in the history of British main/malestream Drama, a decidedly feminist viewpoint on politics, religion and war. With Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, writes Jean E. Howard, Churchill returns to ‘some of the questions raised in [her 1972 play] Owners’ but only with one difference that whereas Owners is situated in ‘the contemporary Britain’, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is set in ‘the English Civil War of the 1640s and 1650s when radical movements and sensibilities flourished and regimes of ownership were profoundly, if fleetingly, called in question’ (Howard in Aston and Diamond 38). While such a backdrop allows Churchill to trace the early periods of English capitalism it also, by extension, enables her to show how blind adherence to any politico-economical ideology only subjects the individual to mindless torture.
According to Christopher Hill, the mid seventeenth century represents ‘the greatest upheaval that has yet occurred in Britain’ (Hill 14). The conflict of opinions between the Parliament and the King regarding the king’s sovereignty on the land and power over its people and the parliament’s rights to control such sovereign powers was already posing serious problems for the English politics since the beginning of Charles I’s reign. The situation exacerbated when for eleven consecutive years Charles I declined to summon the Parliament and resorted to tyrannical ways of extorting taxes from the masses. In the religious front too, the tension was felt when in 1637 William Laud, the Bishop of London, proposed a new book of prayers for Scotland under the active patronage of Charles I following which riots broke out in Edinburgh.
On February 28, 1638 the Scottish nobles and ministers signed an agreement titled the National Covenant declaring their faith in Presbyterian discipline and unanimous rejection of the English attempts at enforcing English liturgical practices and Protestant church governance on Scotland. This together with the inner conflicts resulted in the English Civil War from 1642 to 1651 which, according to Hall, brought about an era of ‘great overturning, questioning, revaluing of everything in England’ during which the Royalists supporting the King Charles I were pitted against the Roundheads who were in favour of both the Long Parliament and the Rump Parliament (Hill 14). The civil war came to an end with the victory of the Parliamentarians at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651, but the dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell failed to bring positive changes in the British society — to the lives of the suffering masses.
According to Dimple Godiwala, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire ‘is a radical re-interpretation of history and takes its place beside the many ‘history plays’ of the post-war period’ (Godiwala 59). In the play, Churchill tries to present an alternative history of the seventeenth century Britain by highlighting this virtually unchanged relationship between the state’s will to power and the resultant suppression of the masses. The play can profitably be seen as Churchill’s answer to the grand narratives of the officially sanctioned versions of history which just like any other supremacist discourses tries to suppress subversions or what Hill calls as ‘the revolt within the Revolution’ (Hill 14):
The simple ‘Cavliers and Roundheads’ history taught at school hides the complexity if
the aims and conflicts of those to the left of Parliament, we are told of a step forward to
today’s democracy but not of a revolution that didn’t happen; we are told of Charles and
Cromwell but not of the thousands of men and women who tried to change their lives.
Though nobody now expects Christ to make heaven on earth, their voices are surprisingly
close to us. (P1. 183)
That the ‘Cavliers and Roundheads’ history the schools teach and by extension preach includes what happened to ‘Charles and Cromwell’ and to the well-known men like them but excludes the sufferings of the general masses seems to correspond to Napoleon’s definition of history as merely a ‘version of past events that people have decided to agree upon’.
The same conviction is bolstered when Churchill includes lines from a 1648 Digger pamphlet “More Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” as the epigraph to the play. The ‘light’ that the title of Churchill’s play refers to is as much the ‘light’ that the 17th century Digger’s pamphlet attempted to throw at the problematic state of England as that ‘light’ which keeps on ‘shining’at the Buckingham palace in spite of and irrespective to the dismal darkness that has descended on the country and its people. The ‘Diggers’, alternatively called the ‘True Levellers’, were the 17th century group of agrarian communists who were Protestants by faith and radicals by political orientation. Led by and William Everard, they fought for the farmer’s rights on the lands first against the king during Charles I’s reign and against the landowners during Commonwealth’s rule. Needless to mention, the Digger’s rebellion was brutally crushed by destroying their houses and their agricultural lands by the Commonwealth which was greatly alarmed by their subversive activities and intent. Therefore, Churchill’s reference to the Digger’s pamphlet at the very opening of her play and the innumerable direct and indirect quotations from a number of other 17th century documents transforms it into both a documentary and an epic narration of the marginalization of mankind that goes on unabated in the name of politics, war and religion.
The movement of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire revolves round subversion of certain atemporal rules of state and religion. Both the state as a political entity and organized religion as a cultural discourse need to subjugate the people into acceptable sets behaviours or thoughts through repressive or ideological means for their own perpetuation. When the play opens we find such an example of religious indoctrination whereby the masses are taught to ‘fear’ the ‘pit’ of damnation and are programmed to ‘confess’ and ‘repent’ sins such as ‘subversion’ and ‘heresy’:
Fear, and the pit, and the snare are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth.
And it shall come to pass that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the
pit; and he that cometh out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare; for the
windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake. (P1. 189)
According to Godiwala, this reading from Isaiah ‘evokes a universal terror by the hell-fire-pit sermonizing’ (Godiwala 60). No doubt, the ‘terror’ that Godiwala talks about is ‘universal’; for it is either the infernal pit of suffering or the smothering webs of punishment that have traditionally been perceived to be the fate of all/every human acts of willing/unwitting deviance.
Therefore, it is not without significance that while praying to God the first character of the play Cobbe is more conscious about ‘word, thought or faint motion’ (which he or Christianity condemns as sins) that he fears might have been unknowingly committed despite his ‘strict guard set’ than those committed in full knowledge and sense. In fact, just like Dan in A Mouthful of Birds, Cobbe is a victim of religious indoctrination. He too perceives the world to be too full of sins to be redeemed so easily. The confession that Cobbe ultimately blurts out considers an act of insubordination within the family:
At table last night when father said grace I wanted to seize the table and turn it over so
the white cloth slid, silver, glass, capon, claret, comfits overturned. I wanted to shout
your name and damn my family and myself eating so quietly when what is going on
outside our gate? (P1. 191-192)
This thought of rebellion against the father is potentially disruptive in nature; for this rebellion is not merely against the paterfamilias but also against the symbolic order and the values that the father represents and endorses. Cobbe’s anger at his father’s toasting of ‘grace’ during the dinner indicates that everything might not be so graceful as his father wants his family to believe.
Evidently, Cobbe’s inability to join the dinner is due to his awareness of ‘what is going on outside’ the ‘gates’ of the upper class family house. It is here that his refusal to participate in the lavish dinner that his father holds becomes a means to express his resistance to the great show of paternal feeling by the king and to the unwavering, unfulfilled promises of the God and his agents like the Vicar. Thus, by subverting what Godiwala calls the ‘trinity’ of the biological father, the earthly father and the heavenly father, Cobbe ‘prepares the ground’ not only for ‘the movement of the play’ but also for the negotiating the tripartite ‘matrix’ of normative ‘order’ which ‘straitjackets’ men like him.
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire offers the audience a highly fragmentary episodic narrative wherein separate tales coexist without any necessary connection between them. As Churchill puts it, ‘Each scene can be taken as a separate event rather than part of a story’ (P1. 184). While this kaleidoscopic nature allows the play to concentrate on what Churchill calls ‘larger events like war and revolutions’ and their aftermath, it also provides her with an opportunity to point out the similar nature of all human sufferings or how ‘people share the same kind of experience’ (P1. 184). Besides, it also proffers to the play the Churchillean avoidance of closure whereby characters appear onstage, leave without completing their tales and wait until their stories are taken up once again by the playwright, if they are taken up at all. In one of her interviews, Churchill explains how the disturbing fragmentariness of her script which initially scared her, eventually matured into an emblem for the fragmented existence that man is made to live with since the beginning of civilization:
With Light Shining I’d come with a very unfinished script, because I’d written a version which didn’t work at all. So then I wrote another version in ten days before rehearsals began, but it wasn’t finished. [...] But then we [Churchill and Stafford-Clark] had the idea jointly—we suggested it jokingly, and then came back to it: ‘What we ought to do is let everybody play different parts, and not worry about characters going through’. (Churchill 27)
Quite in keeping with this fragmentariness, Cobbe’s narrative is immediately followed by that of a Vicar who represents the religious authority (P1. 192). His conversation with the servant during which he emphasizes the necessity to adhere by the Christian doctrines of suffering and repentance and emphatically supports the operations of the state as represented by the king and the church reveals a strong bias against the humane will to freedom, ‘This is a Godly estate and they will be evicted if they don’t submit’ (P1. 193). But before the Vicar is allowed to speak more in favour of the religion-state nexus, Churchill brings in another character i.e. Margaret Brotherton (P1. 193).
In fact, Margaret Brotherton happens to be the first female character to appear onstage in Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. Unlike Cobbe or the Vicar who represent the Elite class and the Church respectively, Margaret Brotherton hails from the very bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy. She is a woman, a beggar, and a vagabond who has managed to disrupt from all available identity groups that are acceptable in a civilized socio-cultural setup. The society therefore has no qualms in denying Margaret’s rights to beg and instead punishes her for putative attempts at stealing by ‘stripping’ her to the ‘waist’, beating to the ‘bounds of [the] parish’ and only then making her return to the ‘parish where [she was] born’ (P1. 194). Interestingly, during her trial Margaret is not allowed to speak on her own except for a single instance wherein she accepts her sin of vagrancy. While this highlights how women have been silenced by patriarchy since time immemorial, it also indicates the utter failure of the state machinery to locate the real dangers to the state. It is only during her next appearance that Margaret is allowed to speak her mind (P1. 197).
Margaret’s drunken conversation with an anonymous man gives voice to an all pervading sense of loss and futility that has engulfed the entire humankind. Margaret’s proposal of selling the Bible for getting shelter during the stormy night stands in sharp contrast to both the lavish dinner offered by Cobbe’s father inside the warm family house and the man’s ability to offer her a halfpenny in return of sexual favours (P1. 197). In a similar way, her dubious reply ‘If [Christ] comes tomorrow and you’ve not drunk your money. Sitting here with tenpence in the cold. Christ laugh at you for that’ stand in sharp contrast to the man’s strong conviction about Christ’s ‘coming’ in order to save the humanity, highlighting thereby the illusory and then therefore delusive nature of such beliefs (P1. 197-198). As Godiwala puts it, ‘Brotherton understandably doesn’t share in the utopian dream, preferring the solidity of a tangible and fulfilling present moment rather than a tomorrow which is not promised to her’ (Godiwala 61).
Margaret’s inability to have faith in religion is immediately counterpointed by the promises of Star, a corn merchant who is busy gathering soldiers for building the army of saints (P1. 198). Star is an avowed Christian who stands in sharp contrast to the unholy nexus of politics and religion. During his speech he urges the masses not to wait for any divine intervention but to take upon themselves the task to bring about a revolution that will ultimately free themselves and their religion from the clutches of an overpowering political authority; for as history has taught him to fear that ‘It (...[might]) be too late when Christ comes to say you want to be saved’ (P1. 195). Therefore, the war that he is preparing for is as much against the king of England as against the institutionalized religion that the king is promoting in guise of the Church of England.
His vision of Christ ruling over ‘England for one thousand years’ expresses his strong conviction in a better tomorrow that will be free from all kinds of social, economic, political and religious injustice. And the beginning of such an era he already foresees with his ability to pay his soldiers eight pence a day which is ‘better than labouring. And it’s everyday (…) not just the days you fight. Every day’ (P1. 195). Obviously when people like Briggs join the Saint’s Army it is as much for the regular money as for the hopes that Star is able to generate in the common man. Very soon a similar kind of hope is seen in Cobbe’s vision of the arrival of the Saviour:
I saw a great body of light […] Amen, Halelujah, Halelujah, Amen. […] My most
excellent majesty and eternal glory in me answered and said, fear not. I will take thee up
into my everlasting kingdom. […] And I heard a voice saying, ‘Go to London, to
London, that great city, and tell them I am coming’. (P1. 206)
In the highly fragmented world of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, the next prominent character is Hoskins. If Star’s rebellion is against the politicization of religion, then Hoskins refuses to comply with the gender stereotypes promoted by Christianity. The more she listens to the Preacher’s words the more she develops doubts about the veracity of its contents (P1. 200). This is indicated in her gradual progression from an anonymous listener (implied by her adherence to the collective voice of the mass) to a self-appointed deputy to the Preacher (highlighted by her echoing of the Preacher’s words) and then to a deviant figure (symbolized in her ability to complete sentences that the Preacher leaves for the masses to fill in). Therefore, when the Preacher starts talking about the Christian doctrine of sin and damnation, Hoskins can hardly stop herself from voicing forth her protest, ‘God would not send us into the pit. Christ saves us from that. [...] Yes he will cast them down but he not damn them eternally [...] what sort of God takes pleasure in pain’ (P1. 201-202). However, instead of answering her queries, the Preacher questions her basic right to speech: ‘Why are you speaking? I let it pass but you are too loud. Women can’t speak in church’ (P1. 201).
This traditional proscription on female speech that the Preacher as a representative of a patriarchal religion seems to express here can be read on two levels: first ‘Women can’t speak’ and second ‘Women can’t speak in church’. If the first injunction denies female right to expression in human society, then the second one bars her from expressing herself even before God and those who claim to represent him. However, the more the Preacher tries to smother her voice the more subversive Hoskins’s queries become, “You say we are chosen to be damned before we are born. [...] How can God choose us from all eternity to be saved or damned before we are born” (P1. 202). When Hoskins starts quoting from the Bible verbatim in support of her questions the Preacher is left with no other alternatives than banishing this woman from church premises, “Get her out” (P1. 202). His closing remark, “Woman, you are certainly damned”, is both a decree of punishment on counts of Hoskins’s attempts at breaking into the male domain of language and theology and an expression of the Preacher’s frustration with himself at once as the male superior and as a religious head for not being able to coerce a woman into submission (P1. 202).
The next time when Hoskins appears onstage we find her in a battered condition. She has been subject to mass violence from which a young man Claxton has rescued her (P1. 203). Significantly, the wife of Claxton is identified not by any name but in relation to the husband i.e. ‘the wife’. Needless to say, this anonymity has strategically been constituted by the patriarchal culture for women whom it can neither expect nor accept to have a name and by extension an identity separate from and independent of the paterfamilias. It is her conversation with Hoskins that brings the wife of Claxton vis-à-vis certain hitherto unquestioned socio-religious givens which she as a victim of normative femininity is unable to accept:
But women don’t preach. We bear children in pain, that’s why. And they die. For our sin, for Eve’s sin. That’s why we have pain. We’re not clean. We have to obey. The man, whatever he’s like. If he beats us that’s why. We have blood, we’re shameful, our bodies are worse that a man’s. All bodies are evil but ours is worst. That’s why we can’t speak. (P1. 204)
The female body has traditionally been perceived to be ‘unclean’ and ‘shameful’ on counts of its biological compulsion to menstruate notwithstanding its importance and desirability for child bearing. This attitude of the wife of Claxton to her own body is an offshoot of the gender hegemony whereby the male child is taught to praise himself for his ability to ejaculate semen which is emblematic of a desirable masculinity while the female child is programmed to abhor herself for her ability to bleed which is socially, culturally and religiously perceived to be ‘filthy’ and ‘shameful’. In fact, a menstruating woman’s acceptability in society depends as much on her reproductive capacity as on her perfect adherence to what can be called the menstrual codes. Iris Marion Young describes these codes when she writes:
[...] from our earliest awareness of menstruation until the day we stop, we are mindful of the imperative to conceal our menstrual process [to] follow a multitude of practical rules. Do not discuss your menstruation […] leave no bloodstains on the floor, towels, sheets, or chairs. Make sure that your bloody flow does not visibly leak through your clothes, and do not let the outline of a sanitary pad show. (Young 106-107).
It is this experience of living with a culturally programmed hatred of her own body that prompted the wife of Claxton to vehemently oppose Hoskins’s proud proclamation of feminine rights to speech.
However, Hoskins’s resistance does not go in vain as in one of the following sections two anonymous women representing the entire womankind, for the very first time in their lives, face a mirror and try to perceive who they are, ‘Look. Who’s that? That’s you. That’s you and me’ (P1. 207). Through this symbolic act of looking at the mirror the women break out of their normative existence formed and framed by patriarchal imagination and religious injunctions by exercising their right and might to know their self-identity. Their next wish to face the ‘bigger mirror’ where their entire body can be seen at once in a similar way expresses their desire and need to let their selves and their bodies ‘know’ (perceive) what ‘they look like’ (their self-reality) in its totality which patriarchy has never allowed them to do:
There’s an even bigger mirror [...] You see your whole body at once. You see yourself standing in that room. They must know what they look like all the time. And now we do’ (P1. 207).
Before the first act of the play ends with the highly condensed Putney debates, this newly found power of the two anonymous women on their own bodies, together with the optimism of Star and Cobbe, is celebrated when the chorus sings Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road’, “All seems beautiful to me / I can repeat over to men and women, you have done such good to me” (P1. 208).
The second act of Light Shining in Buchinghamshire brings together all the characters of the first act and situates them against the 17th century background (P1. 209). The act opens with the Diggers talking about the state machinery and their revolt against it — how ‘the General gave consent that the soldiers should come to help beat off the Diggers’ (P1. 220). In the series of fragmentary scenes that follows Churchill hints at a number of socio-cultural changes that the 17th century England was witness to. She also lays bare how, in spite of all these changes, the basic story of human suffering remains unperturbed. No matter how well the Vicar welcomes Star as the new landlord, numerous women will fail to feed their children. The same sense of disillusionment pervades the penultimate scene titled ‘Meeting’ wherein a frustrated Briggs cries out “Jesus Christ isn’t going to change it” (P1. 233). The play ends with a post-restoration scene ‘After’. While Hoskins attempts to overcome the collective frustration by relying on divine intervention although she suspects mankind to have missed it “Christ did come and nobody noticed”, Cobbe does the same by changing his name and identity (P1. 240). The play ends with Claxton’s expression of a Whitmanesque wish to look out upon the sorrows of the world, “My great desire is to see and say nothing” (P1. 241). Needless to say, this wish to see and say nothing is not an escapist tendency. It is rather symbolic of the wish to secure agency through waiting and seeing and gaining knowledge thereby which can be used in future.
If Light Shining in Buckinghamshire attempts to reconstruct the history of the English Civil War from the perspective of the general public and also portrays the individual’s struggle against religious, capitalist and socialist ideologies about private property, political domination and revolutionary ideals, then Mad Forest ties to present an alternative version of the Romanian Revolution of 1989. Mad Forest was first performed by the students of the Central School of Speech and Drama, London, on June 25, 1990. Then the play was staged at the National Theatre, Bucharest, from September 17, 1990, before it moved to the Royal Court Theatre, London, on October 9, the same year. It is interesting to note that shortly after the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu, the then President of Romania and the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, in December 1989, Churchill personally visited the country to conduct preliminary research works for writing the play. This rare experience of getting to know people who were the direct victims of the revolution proffers to the play a documentary like clarity of narration and an empathic view into the characters’ lives.
The Romanian Revolution was a part of the revolutionary wave that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period otherwise known as the Autumn of Nations, resulting in the fall of Communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. The revolution was the result of some nine years of extreme totalitarian communist regime under the leadership of the then President Nicolae Ceauşescu. During 1960s and 1970s, notes Peter Siani-Davies, Romania was hailed as one of the fastest growing economies in Europe (Siani-Davies 21). However, it was not until the late 1970s that the real crisis was felt. Romania’s decided preference for large scale industries was slowly but surely breeding trouble for the country’s economy. The production rate was much higher than the consumption rate which along with Romania’s failure to increase their export market and continued reliance on foreign loans resulted in underused capacities and unsold production. It is at this state that the 1979 energy crisis following the Iranian Revolution triggered both real and perceived fiscal calamities.
It is at this time that the President Nicolae Ceauşescu approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a line of credit and decided to pay off the entire amount of loan that Romania had borrowed from different foreign sources till then within a very short period of time (Siani-Davies 70-91). With this, Ceauşescu announced the heinous austerity program whereby all welfare state policies were abandoned, import facilities were restricted, domestic energy resources were channeled to regularize foreign export systems, the radio and television stations were silenced as per the ‘Systemization Policy’ and last but not the least, basic human necessities, such as food, electricity and medicine were rationed. By 1986, Romania was able to pay off half of its debt but by that time the standard of living in country thanks to Ceauşescu’s ‘Rational Eating Program’ had already hit its pit bottom. Acute food shortage due to this ‘Rational Eating Program’ coupled with total absence of medical facilities increased the rate of mortality in an unnatural manner. Throughout this period the Romanian ubiquitous secret service agents/cops the ‘Securitates’ guaranteed the citizens’ perfect adherence to the laws by suppressing mass media, liquidating the activists, quashing the political parties and by such other repressive technologies. Though the entire debt was paid by 1989, Ceauşescu did not withhold this austerity program.
The early protest against the regime was seen in Timișoara in mid-December 1989 when the government tried to evict Hungarian Reformed church pastor László Tőkés who was well known for his scathing criticism of Ceauşescu’s policies. The ‘Securitate’ was assigned the duty of crushing the protest, but riots broke out in the entire Romania. Within a week, Ceauşescu, his wife and the Deputy Prime Minister were arrested on charges of genocide, power abuse, oppressive state mechanics, and potential damage to the country’s economy. They were found guilty by a Kangaroo Court and were sentenced to death. The execution was carried out on December 25, 1989. Set against this violent time, Churchill’s Mad Forest traces the Romanian life before, during and after the revolution. Mad Forest is one among those very few Churchill plays in which scenes can be read or seen not as parts of a larger structure but as complete units. The play is divided into three distinct parts. As Mary Luckhurst puts it, this tripartite structure allows Churchill to take ‘the challenge of representing revolution to new levels of sophistication’ (Luckhurst in Aston and Diamond 62). Churchill in this play, Luckhurst notes further, ‘draws a great deal more attention to the mechanisms of narrative in performance, and places the act of spectatorship under particular stress’ (Luckhurst in Aston and Diamond 62). The first part is set in the pre-revolution Ceauşescu regime which narrates the wedding preparations of Lucia Vladus, the daughter of a working class family of Romania to an American man. The second part shows the revolution times by presenting a series of eye-witness accounts of the Revolution Bucharest saw between December 21 to 25 1989. The third section of the play narrates the post revolution era wherein the marriage preparations of Lucia’s younger sister Florina are under full sway. It is this episodic narration that links Churchill’s Mad Forest to the Brechtian epic theatre wherein each scene is a free standing structure. As Elaine Aston puts it, “The Brechtian style of Mad Forest is structurally encoded in the three-part montage of scenes, captioned with titles announced in Romanian and English” (Aston 78).
In her note to the play, Churchill assures her directors and audience not to be “afraid of long silences” since Mad Forest, as she conceives it, “goes from the difficulty of saying anything to everyone talking” (P3. 104). It is this ‘difficulty’ of speech counterpointed by the ‘clamour’ of voices that lend to Mad Forest its unique approach to communication and language. The first part of the play which consists of sixteen small scenes can profitably be seen as a study in the failure of communication. All most the entire of the part fails to develop any well-formed dialogue system. The conversations between the Vladu parents Bodgan and Irina or between the daughters Lucia and Florina are drowned by the programs and announcements of the radio standing for the state controlled nature of enjoyment and information in Romania (P3. 107-108).
In a similar manner, the conversation between the members of the Antonescu family, though uninterrupted by radios or televisions, is punctuated by confusion and uncertainty which are as much due to their familial problems as because of the disturbed condition of Bucharest (P3. 108-109). Even when Flavia Antonescu teaches history to her students, the version of the country’s past and present that she blurts out is highly mediated in nature which makes her speech another name for silence (P3. 110-111). Similarly, when the Securitate man interprets Lucia’s marriage into an American family as an indication of the entire Vladu family’s lack of patriotism, threatens severe measures against each of the members of the family and instructs Bodgan to report to the Securitate once a week without giving him an opportunity to speak in favour of his rights to choose a match for his daughter, the audience can easily see the culture of silence that Nicolae Ceauşescu led government promoted (P3. 111-113). That Lucia had to bribe the doctor to terminate her pregnancy since abortion was legally banned in Romania is another instance of the supreme control that the state wanted to exert on its citizen’s private life (P3. 113).
If Lucia has to silently accept the tag of a ‘slut’ for her sexual liberties, her brother Gabriel has to submit himself unquestioningly to the wishes of his boss to prove his patriotism (P3. 117-118). The sudden rage and enthusiasm with which Radu, Ianoş, Gabriel and the anonymous soldier and the waiter chase a rat and ultimately kick it out of vicinity like a football is actually an expression of their frustration with the totalitarian regime that they are made to put up with (P3. 118). A similar frustration can be seen in the utter disinterestedness with which Lucia and Ianoş, most probably her lover, stand in silence, watch time while holding each other in close embrace (P3. 120).
Radu and Florina too are unable to communicate with each other because of the same frustration arising out of the order of silence that defines the current situation of things (P3. 120-121). In the entire first section of the play there are only two characters who can speak out the horror that the others are living through. However, what is interesting is that none of these characters belong to the mortal world. The first is an Angel (P3. 115-116) while the second one is the apparition of the Flavia’s dead Grandmother (P3. 119-120). Though both these characters talk against the government, they ultimately retrace their own footsteps:
ANGEL (...) I try to keep clear of the political side. You should do the
GRANDMOTHER (...) Or sometimes I did nothing. It was me doing nothing.
Radu too has to pretend submissiveness immediately after announcing his rebellion ‘Down with Ceauşescu’ and tries to start a communication with Florina (P3. 121). The penultimate scene wherein Lucia tries her wedding gown reduplicates the cultural gaze that decides an individual’s acceptability in society (P3. 121). The first part of Mad Forest ends with Lucia’s Marriage to Wayne (P3. 121-122).
The second part of the play records eyewitness accounts of some fourteen people — a girl student, two boys students, two students whose gender identities are not disclosed, a translator, a doctor, a soldier, a securitate, a housepainter, a flower seller, a bulldozer driver and a painter. As Churchill herself clarifies, ‘None of the characters in this section are the characters in the play that began in Part I. They are all Romanians speaking to us in English in Romanian accent’ (P3. 123). The myriad narratives of the general public give voice to the sense of utter confusion permeating as much the state operatives as the revolution. As Donna Soto-Morettini rightly asseverates:
The important point made by these accounts is the apparent lack of organisation guiding these events, and the absence of any sense of an underground movement that might have directed the takeover of the palace and the television station (Soto-Morettini 110).
The final section of Mad Forest opens in the post-revolution Romania with a surreal encounter between a Vampire and a Dog. Both of them have been drawn to Bucharest by the smell and taste of blood that has been shed due to the revolution:
VAMPIRE I came here for the revolution, I could smell it a long way off.
DOG I've tasted man's blood. It was thick on the road, I gobbled it up quick, then somebody kicked me. (P3. 137)
Interestingly, the blood thirst that drives the Vampire out of its grave can now be noticed in the Dog; for by tasting the human blood it has transgressed the limits of living world and thereby has alienated itself from the civilization of the livening beings to which it originally belonged. Therefore, the Dog’s wish of getting transformed into a Vampire Dog and the Vampire’s decision to take it as his companion by sucking its blood and transforming it thereby into a vampire dog is as much fuelled by their mutual search for company as by their thirst for blood. By extension, this blood thirst is an emblem for the continued suffering of common humanity even after the revolution.
This sense of continued suffering is bolstered by the following scenes wherein a number of Romanian citizens are seen writhing in pain in hospitals. While the wounded Gabriel can hardly believe that his wife Rodica has survived the revolution, another anonymous citizen finds it difficult to grasp the very factuality of the Revolution:
Did we have a revolution or a putsch? Who was shooting on the 21st? And who was shooting on the 22nd? Was the army shooting on the 21st or did some shoot and some not shoot or were the Securitate disguised in army uniforms? [...] Most important of all were the terrorists and the army really fighting or were they only pretending to fight? And for whose benefit? And by whose orders? [...] How many people died at Timișoara? And where are the bodies? Who mutilated the bodies? And were they mutilated after they'd been killed specially to provoke the revolution? By whom? For whose benefit? (P3. 142-143)
Unlike in Light Shining in Buckinghamshire where the citizens take active part in the revolution, in Mad Forest they remain quite distant from the political upheavals in the country. In fact, this is the first instance in the play that someone has the time and opportunity to give voice to his doubts and anxieties. Highly unsettling in nature, these unanswered questions counterpoint the glorious promises of the Revolution with the reality of disillusionment, suspicion and unabated violence. This breaks the vicious cycle of imposed silence and suffering and soon Florina too is seen expressing her doubts regarding the Revolution while Flavia questions the very historicity of what the schools, as ideological state instruments, teach as history:
FLORINA How many people were killed in Timișoara? Where are the bodies? There
were bodies found in a sandpit for the longjump. Where are the rest?
FLAVIA All I was trying to do was to teach correctly. Isn’t history what’s in the
It is in the final scene of the play that almost all the characters including the Vampire and the Angel reunite for Florina’s wedding (P3. 176). Still troubled with the effects of the Revolution, the characters nearly forget the occasion that has brought them together until Flavia’s comments make them aware of the wedding, ‘This is a wedding. We’re forgetting our programme. It’s time for dancing’ (P3. 178). However, as one can easily see, the revolution and its aftermath have rendered the characters emotionally barren to such an extent that they can hardly participate in the merrymaking and obsessively engage in political argument. At this point all the characters quite instinctively stop conversing in English because this adapted language has failed in adequately expressing their angst. They revert to their mother tongue Romanian and start babbling in it (P3. 178-181).
During this phase of overlapping dialogues and monologues, Bodgan emphasizes the need of a strong leader for the country while Irina worries about how both Ceauşescu and the Revolution have robbed the people of their vitality and potency. In a similar manner, Gabriel expresses his strong racial hatred towards the French while Radu still wonders about the identities and the fates of the revolutionaries. Thus, while the other characters are too submerged in their worries, Flavia announces her decision to write an alternative version of Romania’s history that will at once uncover the mystery surrounding Ceausescu's fall and chronicle the real post-revolution Romania, “I'm going to write a true history so we'll know exactly what happened” (P3.179). The conversation concludes with brief comments from two unearthly guests to the wedding ceremony — one an Angel and the other a Vampire. While the Angel prefers to keep himself aloof from political strife “I try to keep clear of the political side” (P3. 180), the Vampire expresses the ineffectuality of such desires “You begin to want blood” (P3. 181). Needless to say, the Angel voices a common human wish whereas the Vampire expresses a compulsive desire.
According to Stuart Hall, ideology is “the mental frameworks — the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the systems of representation” that “different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, figure out and render intelligible the way society works” (Hall in Morley and Chen 26).Ideologies not only promote and legitimize the interests of a ruling group or individual but also perpetuate its/his hegemonic control on others who belong to that socio-cultural framework. In fact, ideology operates as the looking glass through which a man is made to perceive one another and the world at large constituting thereby the ‘interiority’ of an individual or a group based on their acceptance of the prescribed rules and roles, as opposed to and by the ‘exteriority’ of yet another individual or group for their resistance to the same. It is this interiority/exteriority dichotomy that determines the respective subject positions of the individual(s) or the group(s) as docile or deviant in relation to the ideology promoted by a given society. While docility guarantees acceptance and accommodation, deviance invites ostracism, surveillance and punishment.
In the two plays under discussion i.e. Lights Shining in Buckinghamshire and Mad Forest, we can see how both the states try to constrict the lives of their citizens in such a way that their individual identities are smothered and puppets are produced who can sing and dance to the tunes of their sovereign masters at their whims. However, we can hardly forget that when ideology reinforces its hold on the individual or the masses through the exercise of condign, compensatory or conditioned power, then it is the individual and/or the collective’s claim on identity that offers both the means and the incentive of thwarting this imposition. In the plays, therefore, characters like Cobbe, Margaret Brotherton, Florina and Flavia stand up to face the constrictive ideologies of their respective states and thereby assert their own individual identities. The pain they undergo, the battles they fight, the struggles they put up and the losses they endure all give voice to their strong denial to surrender their individual identity at the much glorified alter of the state. And it is this eternal spirit of the chainless mind, as celebrated in the plays, which keeps hope alive for the rest of the humanity.
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