Daniel and Mary

Two very different productions seen in the same week. Firstly, a special birthday trip to see Mary Poppins on stage – a matinee attended by whole classes of enthusiastic primary-school kids and at the other end of the spectrum their Baby-boomer grandparents.

Why Mary Poppins? – because I loved the film and especially Julie Andrews, although not Dick Van Dyke and his preposterous Cockney accent. I also loved the Disney animations as I’m a sucker for cartoons of any sort. The plot – well it wasn’t that important was it? As long as it had a Happy Ending? I do remember being a bit disappointed that it didn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the original P.L. Travers books I enjoyed as a child, but the songs made up for that.

So, as a jaded senior citizen I didn’t expect to be thrilled by Mary Poppins parachuting onto the stage with her umbrella, but how wrong was I? Brilliant scenery and special effects created something truly magical, the Wow factor but differently, more immediate, as live theatre so often is. And another plus for me – the story seemed darker and more realistic somehow, and definitely more feminist, but with spoonfuls of proper sugar rather than saccharine. Mrs Banks, the mother, is shown as she is/was, a housewife not allowed to continue her career and doomed to organise the social entertaining she hates. Mr Banks, influenced by Mary Poppins, ignores the capitalist principles of the bank and refuses to lend money to a crooked businessman. If all goes wrong this well-heeled family will be ruined, out on the street. But of course everything turns out Practically Perfect, lots of money is made, and the audience gets to sing Super-calla-fragil-istic-expi-ali-do-cious. Excellent (except for HO’s singing at the top of his voice alongside me perhaps!).

Then we go to see I Daniel Blake, the film. The plot is of huge importance and it represents another way of seeing the capitalist world entirely. We came out shell-shocked and silent. There was a poster display outside and people had been invited to stick labels onto it, with their comments. A man of our age was stood looking at it, in tears, and that’s how we felt. Sad and sorry that our generation, the Baby-boomers, have been unable to stop the political expediency which is destroying the Welfare State and failing people, especially those who fall through the cracks in the Benefits system, and those already out on the street. As someone had written ‘This film is not Benefits Street’ i.e. the TV programmes which would have us believe that people on social security benefits are scroungers and ne’er-do-wells. Quite the opposite. Without giving spoilers, Daniel, the hero, is pushed into the lions’ den, the lions being our unsympathetic and bureaucratic state officials and the politicians who control them. It’s a frightening thought that the events in the film are not fictional. But the film also shows how the most surprising people can display humanity to their fellow beings.

Will this film change things for the better? Will the people who need to understand the message actually go and see it? Probably not. We’re in the post Brexit era, the post-truth era as some call it. Apparently we know how crooked and self-seeking our nation is now, and how our politicians tell lies, but no-one actually cares any more. It seems we should be building walls to keep out work-shy immigrants, and those poor people of course – we’re told they deserve all they get, or don’t get. Just like on the other side of the Atlantic perhaps.

Feels like it’s time for Mary Poppins to be parachuted in.