I recently dragged poor Panos and Tatiana to see “Emma”, a play by Howard Zinn that dramatises the first volume of Emma Goldman’s autobiography “Living My Life”. I was looking forward to it for weeks. I nagged them until they agreed to come too. But it was… a mistake.

Two hours of people screeching and shouting at each other, running backwards and forwards over the set, bursting into song for no apparent reason, and reciting randomly disconnected bits of speeches. I kept trying to work out if it was just the terribly bad acting that made me want to run out jibbering into the night. But no, I don’t think anything could have saved this play. Howard Zinn, maybe you are a good historian. But you suck at writing plays. “Emma” is dire.

It would have been hard to imagine how it could go so wrong, if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Emma Goldman’s life is so full of drama, her story and her struggle are still so relevant to the 21st century. Damn it, there’s even a love story to hang it all on, if he had wanted to go down the banal-hollywoodesque-story-telling route! But what with the endlessly changing 3-5 minute scenes, the utter lack of character development, and the clumsy rendering of “anarchism for dummies” that just got boring because it was so trivialised – the play was doomed. It was hard at times to tell if it wasn’t meant to be a parody. There were moments where I was sure the cast would all join hands and start doing the cancan. “Anarchy The Musical!!” coming to a backstreet theatre near you!!

As we walked home, I tried to tell them something about Goldman’s life to distract from the mess we had just sat through. My friends tried to console me, as I shook my head in disbelief at what had been done to my hero. I hadn’t been a totally wasted evening, they decided. At least they had both got to hear The Internationale in English for the first time. We decided the best thing to do to balance out the damage of the evening was to go see the graves of the Haymarket Martyrs and Emma someday soon. I’ve resisted up till now in doing so because it feels like political tourism somehow. But I feel like I need to go stand on her grave and apologise in person.

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