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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 March 2006, 14:43 GMT
Right wing playwrights 'needed'
Julian Fellowes
The establishment of the left needs to be challenged by the new avant garde
Julian Fellowes, actor and playwright
The arts are stuck in a "lazy" and outdated left wing mindset, says Oscar winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes.

The Conservative-supporting actor and writer backed calls by National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner for a "good, mischievous right wing play".

Mr Fellowes, who won an Oscar for Gosford Park, said the arts in Britain were dominated by 1960s attitudes.

He said it was bad for society that these "orthodoxies" had not been challenged.

'Jackboots'

"It's created a kind of laziness in the arts", Mr Fellowes told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Kwame Kwei-Armah
It is the role of theatre to speak for the underdog
Kwame Kwei-Armah, actor and playwright

"These opinions are given out as truths and part of that is the demonisation of the right so that now the phrase 'right wing play' conjures up images of jackboots clunking over the cobbles at dawn."

He added: "There are all sorts of interesting areas for the right wing playwright to get into - the subversion of parliament, the intrusion of government into every day life.

"You could write a play about any of these things and technically it would be a right wing play but the phrase 'right wing' has now been kind of cast out into the shadows.

"And really, for the post sixties generation, it was not respectable intellectually not to agree with them. And that, I think is not good for any society. Everything has to be challenged, preferably by the arts."

Status quo

Actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, who starred in BBC One's Casualty and has written for the National Theatre, agreed it would be "fun" to write a play from a "right wing with a small r" perspective.

But he said playwrights liked to challenge the status quo.

Mr Kwei-Armah's plays Elmina's Kitchen, about a single father's struggle to keep his son away from crime, and Fix Up, about the struggles of black people in Tottenham, North London, to hang on to their roots, have been staged at the National Theatre. Elmina's Kitchen was also filmed by BBC4.

He told Today: "I think it would be silly of anybody to say there should only be plays, there should only be art, from one section of society or from one section of the political spectrum.

"However I think it's really important to say most artists - and I don't think this is post sixties - most artists tend to want to question the status quo. They tend to want to come at it and be dissenters and say 'why is it so?'"

Mr Fellowes said many people in the arts think "the status quo is the status quo of 30 or 40 years ago".

"There is no establishment of people wandering around in pin stripe suits having lunch with Lady Mary - that's all finished now. The establishment of the left needs to be challenged by the new avant garde which should, logically, come from the right," he told Today.

Mr Kwei-Armah said: "It is the role of theatre to speak for the underdog. I believe that with my heart. Theatre can change people's lives. We shouldn't just be about the status quo, be it of today or yesterday."

We asked for your views, and below is a balanced selection of the comments received. This debate is now closed, thank you for your contributions.

Right wing "thinking"? contradiction in terms? discuss.
Pronoy, Birmingham

Great art is subversive, upsetting, transcendent, and defies pat pigeon-holing. Sounds like Julian Fellowes has let his Oscar go to his head.
Simon Treves, High Wycombe

And about time too! The Left controls almost every walk of public life; police, healthcare, civil service, etc, etc. They must be challenged.
Jason Dack, Woking

Right-wing people pretend that left-wing thought originated in the 60's in order to trivialize it. Left wing thought is older than Jesus (a good socialist himself) and has nothing to do with any particular decade.
Owen Clayton, England

It's hardly surprising that someone who is so obviously politically-motivated as Julian Fellowes is saying this - to be honest, I judge pieces on their merits as good drama. Perhaps there just aren't very many intelligent people in the arts with Tory views? For the record, I don't rate his work including those awful detective/mystery programmes that he fronts and that (possibly like him) belong to a bygone age.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

Liberalism IS the status quo these days. So, if what Mr Kwei-Armah says is true, everyone would be writing plays from a right wing perspective.
Paul, Dunstable, England

We are all shackled by political correctness and the fear of being attacked (physically) if certain groups do not agree with what is said. This has unfortunately filtered down to the arts and started a long time ago with Rushdie and recently hit the headlines in Birmingham, when a theatre was attacked and writers and performers threatened. The extremists are afforded protection whilst the arts are effectively censored.
Grant, Chatham,Kent

Surely the point is that today's establishment are precisely the same people who claimed, c. 30 years ago, to be "speaking out for the underdog"? I'd say that the perception that "right wing = bad" is a very good example of both lazy and dangerously unanalytical thinking which is increasingly prevalent, notably in the 18-35 age range. Let's not forget the proper name for the Nazi party was the National Socialist Workers Party !
Simon, Cambridge

I'm not sure why Fellowes is worried about something so trivial as the theatre-the right controls the press in this country, and hence our "democracy".
Mike Morris, Oxford

Too Right! I study MA Documentary and hope to address the complete left-wing opinionated imbalance in this section of the arts. This is an area where opinions really are presented as truth to the detriment of vigorous discourse amongst the population.
Graham Wild, 23, Lincoln,

There's a good play to be written about why everything is either left or right. Good ideas are ignored and/or rejected if they come from the other "wing". Isn't it time this phoney class war was put to bed?
Rod Main, Newhaven UK

Unfortunately, any right wing productions would invariably include criticisms of the overly PC nature of modern British life. They wouldn't last one night before being picketed by gay, Muslim, black or environmental groups. Nice idea, but free speech is only afforded to some.
Jan Montor, Dover

Totally agree with Julian's views.

Arts establishment are stuck in a left wing mindset. New subjects for analyses in plays could include : ethnic minorities can be Conservatives and hold Conservative / right wing views (Condoleezza Rice). The Anti War movement is not consistent in opposing wars (only wars involving America. The failures of Multicultural orthodoxies. How Islamic extremism is fuelling terrorism (not just "foreign policy"). Why ex public School types, multi millionaire artists bleat on about poverty they've never experienced. Aren't you sick of hearing self important, left wing luvvies whinge!
Mark, Sheffield

We have heard this kind of comment before from tacit supporters, and not-so-tacit supporter, of the conservative right. Surely the very term 'conservative' denotes a desire for constancy and permanence, a wish for the 'quo' to remain allied to the 'status'? To put the distinction in somewhat simplistic terms: those inclined towards the left politically will generally be those who ask questions of the prevailing order, even if, or especially if, that order is itself leftwardly inclined; whereas the right will seek to furnish answers and encourage doubters to seek answers which they are happy to provide. I will always prefer to ask better questions rather than seek easy answers: that's why I position myself on the left, not because I'm a sixties refugee or trying to be trendy! Witness those currently being lambasted by the right-wing media in the USA for daring to question US foreign policy. Mr Fellowes reveals himself to be precisely who and what he is. Draw your own conclusions, but don't forget to keep asking the questions as you do so.
Ashley J. Armstrong, Leicester

I agree with Mr Fellowes. I find it amusing to hear art and media types talking about ¿dissent'. If you hear of a new play/film/book about, for example, the war in Iraq, you can safely predict that it will take exactly the same left wing viewpoint widely reflected in all parts of the media, yet the thing will still be described as ¿controversial', ¿challenging' or even ¿brave'! Any criticism of this boring and sheep-like conformity will be described as an attempt to ¿stifle dissent'.
Anthony Jones, Leeds, UK

How can anyone from the right stand up and challenge Thatcherism, which is the creed of today's political establishment? How could a member of the Conservative Party like Mr. Fellowes write about subversion of Parliament or the intrusion of the state into every day life, when these are things Conservatives did in the 80s and 90s and wouldn't hesitate to do if they were in government now. How can big-C Conservatives seriously and sincerely challenge small-c conservatives like New Labour? The only serious and sincere opposition to these things in Parliament comes from libertarians on the left of the Labour Party. It is still the case, even forty years on from the 60s, that the only real artistic challenge to the establishment can come from the left.
Gregg, Croydon

I totally agree with Julian Fellowes: the arts in general, and the theatre in particular, has for far too long been little more than a left-wing snug, where yesterday's comrades sift through yesterday's gestures and attitudes. Having said that, there ARE a couple of playwrights whose starting point does seem to be from the right (Tom Stoppard and Peter Shaffer spring most readily to mind), but none who seem willing to challenge the left/liberal status quo of contemporary drama.
Richard Ely, Alfreton, UK

Why doesn't Mr Fellows just shut up and get on with writing such a play then? Typical of those on the right - in favour of moaning, but rarely of doing.
James Walker, Newcastle

If Mr Fellowes were to write a play attacking the subversion of parliament and erosion of civil liberties I'm sure many people of a left-wing persuasion would cheer it. The biggest threat at the moment is from the authoritarian centre in the shape of New Labour. However many of us would wish it so, the establishment is not left-wing.
John Murray, Glasgow, Scotland

These comments are quite right. I have pretty much given up with 'contemporary art' in all its forms as this drab outdated left wing ethos pervades everything. The status quo is completely different to what it was. Modern artists of all disciplines should take the opportunity to lay into the hypocrisies, corruption and foolishness of the left wing consensus. Yours sincerely, Richard Fothergill
Richard Fothergill, Bath. UK

Well this is all very well. But can we just have plays that are either, funny, dramatic or moving. I don't care about what side of the political spectrum they come from, I go to the theatre to be entertained, not to attend a party political conference.
,

What a dull and 'lazy' piece of thinking. When we live in such a fiercely right-wing world that even our 'Labour' government wants to proselytise the nation with faith schools and spy on us with ID cards, of course art is going to lean to the left - and it is entirely correct that it should.
Keith, London, UK

To some extent he's right: left-wing drama and other art forms has a tendency to descend into lazy treatment of "issues", usually just a member of a minority group struggling. But then many of the most intelligent and insightful dramatists - Pinter, Beckett, Brecht, Marlowe, Camus - have been rampant lefties.

Of course, whenever there's an orthodoxy in a movement, the lazy, boring works will tend to reflect it, and art, or at least good art, has traditionally leant towards the progressive causes of the time.

If a right-wing dramatist can write a play as clever and thought-provoking as Pinter or Ionesco, all power to them, but imagine how crass lazy right-wing plays would be: The tragedy of a man breaking the shackles of Political Correctness? A peaceful Christian community representing family values? A plot by asylum seekers to screw the taxpayer out of £40 a week? Or just Rambo blowing up A-rabs?

If you want to challenge the "left-wing orthodoxy", quit whining, get off your Tory backside and write a good play.
Alex, Edinburgh

What Mr Fellowes has to learn to accept is that different spheres come under different political control. The right controls the newspapers, the government, the armed forces, the civil service, the police and the economy - the left controls TV, cinema, other arts and the social sector. It's been that way for at least six centuries and it isn't going to change now. Part of the reason is natural aptitude - conservatives are not naturally good at being creative so don't usually make good writers, designers or performers (Mr. Fellows is a notable exception); progressives are not naturally good at being disciplined so aren't cut out for the military, police or civil service. The question is, which side will control the internet? The left seems to be winning at the moment, and it seems like a medium that lends itself to creativity and freedom, but who knows?
Keith, Sunderland, England

Good call Mr. Fellowes. It's about time. Even moderately right-wing views are today so easily dismissed by holier-than-thou liberals as 'small-minded' and ironically as 'populist,' i.e. the vast majority of people agree with them, so they should of course be ignored! Bring on the young playwrights to challenge the tedious artistic status-quo - perhaps some dramas people could relate to may challenge the theatre's place as an ailing preserve of the intelligentsia.
Al, UK




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