In 1982, David Johnston returned from working in Hong Kong for six months and set up a year’s peace project – Festival of Peace – which was massively successful and very controversial. The same year the pro-peace GLC (under Ken Livingstone) was holding its Peace Year. ‘It seemed appropriate to find ways of linking into the ILEA and GLC themes. The first GLC theme we linked into was the Peace Theme in 1982-83,’ he explained.
Theatre Centre secured extra funding from GLC and raised their profile – with David Holman’s very successful plays Peacemaker, Susumu’s Story and 1983 (about cruise missiles) they became more focused and political, producing more issue-based work. The company toured six new shows round schools and theatres. At a time when the threat of cruise missiles and nuclear war were topical concerns, Holman’s issue-based, politically-conscious plays toured schools, courted controversy and hit newspaper headlines.
Peacemaker is about two groups of people, the Reds and the Blues, divided by a wall. Each group shows prejudice against the other but they eventually make friends.
Susumu’s Story is set in Hiroshima just before and when the atomic bomb is dropped. It shows the tragic effects on ordinary Japanese families and ends with a plea to the audience to oppose atomic bombs.
1983 is about the siting of cruise missile in Britain that year and is set in a US Air Force base in Suffolk where a local girl marries an American serviceman.
Norman Tebbit (the Employment Secretary in Thatcher’s Conservative government) tried to get Holman’s plays banned in Waltham Forest. Although he hadn’t even seen the plays, he condemned them as propaganda for nuclear disarmament – ‘at best irrelevant and at worst decidedly harmful’ and put out a bulletin that made national newspaper headlines urging parents to stop their children seeing – and being corrupted by – the plays. The Press supported Theatre Centre and were critical of Tebbit – apart from the Daily Mail and the Sun – and local authorities and the Arts Council backed them to the hilt so the government had to re-trench.
‘1983 is both responsible and serious without ever being dull…a detailed set of Teacher’s Notes prepared by Theatre Centre set the whole thing in context and dealt scrupulously fairly with the nuclear arms debate.’ Hugh David, The Times Educational Supplement