The word “Kafkaesque” gets overused in politics, often by people who have never read a word of the late Czech genius. Looking back over the week the Labour Party has just had, I can see people reaching for the literary comparisons. I think the giant of letters who would have most likely come up with something like the last week for the official opposition is Eugene Ionesco.
Ionecso was one of the innovators of the “theatre of the absurd”, a post WWII style of playwriting in which social situations are taken to absolute extremes. “Rhinoceros” (1959) is a good example of his work: in a small French village, citizens start becoming rhinos one by one. As this occurs, no one comments on this strange circumstance; most of the villagers appear to be oblivious to it happening at all. But I think Ionesco was at his best in his one act plays – and this last week of Labour Party madness would make a great one of these pieces.
Curtain rises. On stage sit two men in suits with a coffee table sat between them. It becomes clear as the dialogue kicks in that one of them is interviewing the other. The interviewee is talking about how it is absurd that his political party is being charged with having a problem with anti-semitism. Immediately after saying this, he begins saying lightly anti-semetic things which the interviewer picks up on instantly and begins to question. This leads the interviewee to say evermore clearly anti-semetic things until he hits the clincher: “Adolf Hitler was a Zionist conspirator, you know. Before he went mad and killed them all, I mean.” When the interviewer explodes with rage at this comment, the interviewee says he never wanted to do the interview in the first place – he really wanted to be in his garden the whole time. Fade to black.
After five seconds, the lights go up again. This time it is a different man sat with the same interviewee as from the first scene, but otherwise, same basic set up. What follows is a very similar interview, only this time instead of trying to defend his political party from anti-semitism, he is trying to defend himself against the same charge. Interviewer Number 2 asks him to retract his comments about Hitler from the first scene, which the interviewee refuses to do over and over again. When the interviewer loses his cool, the interviewee says he never wanted to do this interview in the first place. He wanted to be in his garden the whole time. Fade to black.
When the lights go back up after several seconds, we see the interviewee standing by himself in an allotment wearing the same suit but now holding a gardening implement of some kind. He seems confused and looks around for other people he seemingly thinks will be there. But no – he is alone. He smiles and sighs before panic crosses his eyes. He then looks at his watch and declares, “Shit, I’m late for the interview!”. He exits, stage left. Fade to black.
When the lights arise, the interviewee is sat with the very same interviewer as in the first scene. In fact, the first interview begins to play out again, word for exact word. At random, we fade to black and the curtain drops.