This guest post is from a very repected member of the community detailing the Chipping Barnet Residents Forum on Thursday Evening.
Thursday 23rd June 2011 saw the first production of a new show which its sponsors hope will be the first of a very short run. Seeing as how the performance started at 6.01pm and finished at 6.52pm their wishes may come to fruition.
Following the long running Chipping Barnet Resident Forum produced by Easy Council the challenge was taken up by One Barnet under new management. The recently appointed director will be pleased to note that bringing the time forward to 6.00pm had the desired effect of attracting a new audience. From the audience of 30 over 75% had not been to a forum before. There were two councillors (David Longstaff and Pauline Coakley Webb) and two of Cllr Cornelius’s” usual suspects one of whom stomped out at the interval because he did not understand the script, modern language nor the sublimable message that was not so subtly being sent out by the Key Characters. A reporter was trying to take down the message from the stage but appeared to be as confused as the rest of the audience. She was assisted after the meeting by most of the attendees who gave her their version of events
Although Cllr Langstaff is an actor he was restricted to a walk on part at the end and the Lead was taken by Cllr Barry Evangeli who many will remember as the person who advertised magnum ice cream and said they were priced so that even a councillor could afford them from their increased allowances. He was assisted by a traffic engineer and clerk. There were no Senior Actors and the police failed to arrive. The performance had obviously been well rehearsed and the three spoke in a low monotone that was largely inaudible in the large hall at Coppetts Wood School (carefully selected as a venue as it is poorly served by buses and at the centre of a gridlock on the North Circular Road / Colney Hatch Lane junction especially at 6.00pm – rush hour).
The show open with a show stopping performance from the compere who r e a d o u t v e r y c a r e f u l l y an introduction setting out the constitution of the Area Forums under part V of the LGA 1972 and numerous other Acts. This set the scene – boring - very boring – yawn.
There then followed the new Arrangements and Procedures read again v e r y s l o w l y clearly setting out that the public could raise anything they wanted to except anything they had ever wanted to talk about in the past. Only appropriate items notified in advance would be considered. Only local street based items would be considered. Policy matters would not be discussed. Once it had been raised and accepted they could NOT raise it again for six months. The Forum could decide to take any one of six actions at the meeting. It was made clear the only action that was likely was Action One. “To do Nothing.”.
The performance had 9 acts the first 3 of which were petitions. Action Noted move on to act 4. The audience had obviously failed to comprehend the prologues so started to seek clarification but were told the compere was running the show not them. The six people from Barnes Court were not happy with the traffic engineers comments and insisted that a site meeting be held. That was not in the script but further audience participation ensured that a site visit by the engineer but not Councillors will take place.
That gave encouragement to the 4 people (initially) who presented their petition to save Friern Barnet library and it appeared that it might only get as far as the rubbish bin that night. Interventions from Cllr Coakley Webb led to animated discussions by the performers and the script was rewritten. It will go back to the Town Hall and then go in the bin. The petitioners wanted to speak but were told it was a policy matter so could not be discussed. The audience took a vote and decided it was street based local issue and was eligible under the rules. The petitioner spoke loudly and the compere softly so we heard the loudest voice.
The public participant for act 4 was not present so the matter was ignored.
Act 5 was mainly a solo performance by a regular attendee at these shows Mr Ashwood. He received a low key and even lower volume response which led to a performance of the ritual dance of the ouslam bird. They went round in ever decreasing circles until just as they were about to disappear up a very dark hole Mr Ashwood escaped through the door expressing concern at the undemocratic nature of the proceedings and competence of the actors ( this is a précis of the original)
At least eight people wanted to speak to Act 6 the traffic rat run between Colney Hatch lane and Friern Barnet Road. The compere said that it was on the following performance the Environment subcommittee where they could come and listen to the debate. Speaker” We are not happy with the officer’s report. There are a number of errors and omissions that must be taken in to account. Can we raise them at the subcommittee?
On no says actor two. You can only table questions in writing three days before the committee and you didn’t so you can’t. So there!!
But you told us the item was on the Forum agenda, you didn’t say it was also on the subcommittee. Long silence. Helpful member of audience shouts out “let them ask their questions now, write them down and then refer them to the subcommittee afterwards” long silence, scriptwriter’s conference followed by “No we will not take the questions now. It will be up to the chair of the subcommittee to decide if he will take the questions (Note chair of subcommittee is Cllr Longstaff who was sitting in the audience).
Right if we can’t ask our questions we wish to make some additional points about increased traffic including future refuse lorry movements.
Compere’s ears prick up “What lorries? Where are they going? Answer: Barnet refuse lorries going to Pinkham Way.
Explosion from stage. Voice raised 1.5 decibels at least Pinkham Way is planning. You are not allowed to raise planning matters. You have an opportunity at the planning committee so IT WILL NOT BE DISCUSSED TONIGHT.
Voice from audience “three people for 3 minutes is not consultation nor is it democracy”
Explosion from audience followed by mass audience participation including about 6 people from Pinkham Way although all joined in. Allegations of dictatorship, Agenda rigging, failure to understand Localism, partnership or democracy were met with a response from the stage in a low tone with an air of uncertainty. It appears that pages from Alice in Wonderland had got mixed up with the official script. At one stage we were told that the council knew what it was doing. This answer was probably given in error as the audience all knew what the play was all about and didn’t like it. All of a sudden there were thirty critics all shouting from the same script albeit not the actor’s version. (Please remember that 75% of them had never been to a show before).
Suggestions that the performance had much in common with a Kafka play went over the head of the panel as did references to 1984 ( They didn’t do history at school!!)
There then followed three questions about the Councils working relationship with the police. We were told about the Partnership, working together, Multi agency task force involving the Chief Executive and Borough Commander and at all stages below. We heard how well they talked together but there was a lack of examples of success.
Question “how often does the multi agency meet?” There then followed a quiet dissertation on pulling teeth from hens. Well that is what it sounded like the volume was so low. Eventually Cllr Longstaff was able to tell us it meets quarterly.
Question “and what happens in between”
Compere you have had your question answered we are moving on. The silences and non answers were most revealing.
Compere. We have covered the 9 questions so that is all for tonight Good Night. He picked up his papers and stood up.
Point of order from the floor “Will there be any notes of tonight session and when will they be available.” Long discussion on stage.
There will be notes and they will go on the web site one week before the next meeting.
Question “where are the notes of the January meeting which you must recall because there were so many angry people there. Even longer discussion on stage. This was not in the script.
Answer from Clerk “Tonight was the first of the new Forums so it was not appropriate to publish notes of a Forum that no longer existed”.
Shouts of rubbish from the floor. Could it be that Barnet made most of the previous clerks redundant in March?
The show having started at 6.01 it ended at 6.52pm including introduction and prologue and numerous intervals while the actors checked their scripts or worked out an improvisation.
It was not clear what the authors had in mind; It could have been a comedy, It certainly bordered on farce. There were moments of high drama although the audience was too restrained (just) to opt for murder. The outcome was a tragedy. It was tragic to see democracy killed off so brutally without even any finesse.
Would I recommend the show to a friend? Well no not if I wanted to keep their friendship. They would take it as an insult to their intelligence and would be horrified at the way the actors treated the audience.
It is a shame that George Orwell wrote his book based on his vision of 1984 but not even he could have foreseen what Barnet would be like in 2011.
Those whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad. This play leaves the audience in no doubt as the future of Barnet. Now that is a tragedy