Don’t swallow Globe arty jokes
What is the connection between the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the BBC Proms and the Globe Theatre? I know that they are all in London, but the association I have in mind is a little more subtle than that.
Next month, Israel's Habima theatre company will, by invitation from the Globe Theatre Trust, be giving at the Globe two performances in Hebrew of The Merchant of Venice. On March 29, the Guardian published a letter signed by 37 actors and directors calling for the invitation to be withdrawn.
Not to be outdone, some narcissistic political activists equally ill-disposed towards Habima have given notice - ample notice, I might add - of their intention not merely to attend these performances but to disrupt the proceedings, their excuse being that Habima has somehow identified itself with Israeli government policy in the West Bank by agreeing to perform there.
I'm not concerned here with the arguments used either by these people, which have been admirably demolished by other thespians (both in the JC and the Guardian), though I should perhaps say that my attempt to contact one of the 37 - the actor Richard Wilson - was parried by his agent, who wrote to say that because of his "hectic filming schedule" Richard simply didn't have the time to talk to me, though he was apparently grateful that I'd thought of him. My subsequent inquiry as to whether I might nonetheless assume that Mr Wilson "would dissociate himself from and condemn any attempt to disrupt the Habima performance at the Globe" has - ominously, I fear - remained unanswered.
The police speedily fished him out and charged him
What concerns me is that it's a safe bet that on May 28 or 29 a concerted attempt will be made to disrupt Habima's performance. And that this disruption will be carried out by an alliance of malcontents who have almost certainly calculated that no sanction of any kind will be applied to them, and that, therefore, they will be able to go about their disruptive work with total impunity.
Why do I say this and why do they know it? After all, when the Oxford and Cambridge boat race was disrupted by Trenton Oldfield, who deliberately swam into the Thames for this purpose, the police speedily fished him out and charged him under the Public Order Act. It seems that Oldfield, far from fearing prosecution, actually welcomes the publicity it lends to his crusade against what he terms "elitism", and that the prospect of a criminal record is music to his ears. "If it's jail time," he boasted, "so be it."
My point is that he was apprehended, prosecuted, and will, if found guilty at Isleworth Crown Court on May 23, have to live with a criminal record. The ladies and gentlemen of the Habima disrupting troupe may not face this prospect with such equanimity. But they have probably also calculated that the likelihood of prosecution is very slim.
Oldfield's prosecution falls under the Public Order Act because his alleged offence was perpetrated in a public place. The Globe theatre is not regarded as a public place, nor is the Royal Albert Hall. On September 1, a group of narcissistic political activists - among them persons who have also promised to disrupt Habima - vocally interrupted a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Though escorted from the hall, they were never prosecuted, because this would have required the imprimatur of the Albert Hall's trustees, which was never forthcoming. On that occasion, my curiosity got the better of me. I plucked up the courage to raise the matter with one of these trustees, the Jewish philanthropist Elie Dangoor. His reply was that the disruption was "while regrettable, fairly small and that it would not be a good idea to prolong the matter and run up costs".
Mr Dangoor is entitled to his view and I am entitled to mine, which is that he and his fellow trustees were grossly negligent in this matter, and that their negligence can only have encouraged the protesters, and emboldened them.
Let us all hope that - should either of the Habima performances be similarly disrupted - the Globe trustees act with a great deal more courage and principle.