Truth to Power Café

Truth to Power Café
Written & performed by Jeremy Goldstein with Henry Wolf. Digital Theatre Adaptation & direction Jen Heyes. Melbourne Fringe Festival 2021 & British Council UK/AU Season, Digital Fringe. On demand October 2 – 17, 2021.

Truth to Power Café began as a live show, but now, thanks to COVID-19, comes to us online.  It is essentially agit-prop, but in employing archival film, memoir, poetry, and images it is a moving and sincere piece.  In its earnestness and radical switches of style it can seem somewhat naff at times, but as a live show, it has received glowing reviews in numerous venues.  It begins with its creator, Jeremy Goldstein, in a business suit (very formal) as he wanders in an empty, shadowy cinema hung with progressive banners.  We seem to be somewhere in London, most likely Hackney.  He’s a descendant of Mick, one of Harold Pinter’s ‘Hackney Gang’, six men who were lifelong friends and bolshie activists and agitators.  All dead now except for Henry Wolf, a bushy eyebrowed fellow with a very lived in face and who contributes his doggerel poetry to the mix.  Wolf calls the Gang ‘solipsistic survivors’, who thought they could change the world by the power of words, by speaking ‘truth to power’.  In his mellifluous actor’s voice, Mr Goldstein talks of the persistence of memory and the inescapable past that makes – or breaks – all of us.  The past that has power over us – or is in us.

Later, Jeremy, in a bright red leather jacket, tells of coming out, of nearly dying of HIV-AIDS and of the breach with his father – but how his past of belief, agitation and opposition stayed with him and inspires him still - and has brought about this show.

Image by Graham Denholm.

Abruptly, the intensely autobiographical, moody style changes: a brightly lit stage is filled with ‘ordinary people’, dressed in ‘ordinary’ clothes – and they turn out to be Australians, immigrants to Australia.  Without explanation, we realise that ‘Truth to Power’ is a program, an international movement – and why not?

There is a kind of dance and an air of celebration – because these folks too are survivors.  Preceded each time by a full screen graphic - THIS IS WHO I AM – ten of these people speak direct to camera, each telling of their relationship to power: the power of group solidarity in the ACT UP movement in the AIDS epidemic.  A Sri Lankan woman who came to Australia thirty years ago, endured great hardships but now has found genuine happiness.  A man who found power by the effort to fill his grandad’s ‘big shoes’.  A woman of the Stolen Generation who resisted the power of the government and found power by finding her family.  And there is the 70-year-old Argentinian who coaches soccer for disabled kids to give them power.  One woman tells how easy it is to be your own worst enemy – but how hard it can be to follow your own advice.  Then we are back in London, at a protest in Leicester Square, and Mr Goldstein is there with wings like the angels in Wenders’ Wings of Desire.  For a moment, it’s puzzling… and then it makes sense.

The 47-minute show ends with another full screen graphic: WHO HAS POWER OVER YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY TO THEM?  Good question.

Michael Brindley   

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