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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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‘Shall we not revenge?’

And so to Islington. Upper Street was as dirty and surly as ever but I looked forward to my first visit to the Almeida theatre following its refurbishment. I passed Granita restaurant, scene of the famous ‘deal’ between Blair and Brown, but discovered the windows covered in brown paper, the lights out, and no sign of life. Is this an allegory for New Labour? In its place Messrs Carluccio and Conran have opened restaurants and after sampling the latter’s plum tart I stepped across the road to the intimacy of the Almeida which now boasts a foyer free from draughts. IDc is a new play written by its star, Antony Sher, concerning the stabbing and assassination in 1966 of the South African Prime Minister, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd – the ‘Father of Apartheid’.Sher’s work is based on a recent biography of the assailant, Demetrios Tsafendas, by Henk van Woerden, translated from the Dutch by Dan Jacobson. The extraordinary life of Tsafendas, who died in prison in 1999, tells of the early rootlessness of a man born 80 years earlier in Lourenço Marques to a Cretan migrant and his maid of mixed European and African descent. The irony that Verwoerd was also the son of an emigrant is at the heart of the story – ‘a half-Greek had murdered a half-Dutchman’. Tsafendas suffered from a tapeworm when he was young and although it was removed he believed its head remained in his body. Sher uses this as a reason to create a character called Lintwurm, the giant tapeworm, who is a Mephistophelean alter ego to his host. The short book reads as a quasi-novel but the creation of Lintwurm enables the play to be staged successfully as he acts both as narrator and protagonist. Despite Tsafendas’s undoubted psychological problems, book and play suggest he was no madder than the regime whose downfall he initiated. The play prompts awkward questions about contemporary society and it was a stimulating, if discomforting, evening. The ensemble, which included several South Africans, was excellent, including Paul Herzberg who gave a truly chilling performance as Verwoerd’s successor, John Vorster. How much was caricature I do not know.

SweetSudden death is a feature of Titus Andronicus and in a Spectator article the director of the production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Bill Alexander, discussed recently the attraction of ‘revenge’ entertainment to both Shakespearian and modern audiences. ‘Shall we not revenge?’ is a phrase from The Merchant of Venice, and as an example of the modern genre one thinks instantly of the late Charles Bronson and Death Wish. Titus, you may recall, includes the episode where his daughter Lavinia is raped and then has her tongue cut out and hands severed in order that she might not reveal the perpetrators. This act was retaliation for the death of a son of Tamora, Queen of the Goths. After his sons are captured Titus pays as ransom one of his own hands but receives in return his sons’ heads only. When Lavinia reveals ingeniously those responsible as the other sons of Tamora, Titus serves them in a pie to her at a banquet, slaughters her, then kills Lavinia to end her shame, is then murdered himself by Saturninus who in turn is dispatched by Titus’ son, Lucius – last man standing! As the last scene unfolded there were audible gasps of horror and cries of satisfaction around me from middle England at leisure. We do love our Gothic tales!

HereafterAll of which leads naturally to The Cemetery Club in performance at Lighthouse, Poole. This gentle comedy of New York Jewish widowhood has stood the test of time, contains some great one-liners, and was not damaged by the failure of some of the actors to stay in dialect. Michele Dotrice, best known for her role as Betty in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, had no such trouble and showed her full dramatic and comic abilities. Act 2, Scene 2, when she was tipsy after a party, was a joy to watch.

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