ALL FIRED UP WITH NOWHERE TO GO - APRIL 2 - 4.09PM - 2019
Peter Hitchens, David Edgar - The Loss of Britain - 12.00 noon
So it’s 11.53am, the lecture theatre at the Oxford Martin School is almost full and, most bizarrely for a literary event, there’s a tension in the air. Whether good or bad it’s hard to quantify but certainly people are expecting…something.
And it’s real: the audience, the Festival volunteers, even the School staff, are all whispering away the exact, same sentiment: that some ‘thing’ might suddenly and fiercely kick off.
Crazily, and clearly infected by this group psychosis surrounding me, I too start inexplicably studying the faces and body language of those still streaming in, looking for some giveaway tic that labels them as potential agitators (which would have been a neat trick too as the audience was almost entirely comprised of the retired, affluent and physically frail, probably unable to launch even an egg or flour attack).
Still, it was an unusual sensation, at a literary festival for goodness sake, to feel a slight…anxiety.
On the other hand, maybe this delirium wasn’t too far-fetched; after all the debate we were there to participate in was between journalist and author Peter Hitchens and playwright David Edgar, both politically polar opposite and both with wives callled Eve… (why do we know this? Because David Edgar mentions it by way of introduction and what-do-you-know, that sly, creeping tension is suddenly punctured by this simple slice of whimsy. Genius).
Hitchens of course, a conservative journalist, writes for the Mail on Sunday after a successful career as a foreign correspondent and author; Edgar has had more than 60 of his plays performed at the National Theatre. So the Ying and Yang of the debate had been clearly engineered.
But lo and behold, after all this release of excess stomach acid among the 100 or so there, it turns into an impeccably polite, “more tea Vicar” discussion that never really reaches temperate, let alone boiling temperatures.
Which is a shame. Hitchens is a terrifically concise, explicit orator, who argued that life today would doubtless be a whole lot better if we just went back to the mores and sensitivities of 1950s Britain.
Edgar, equally as smart, naturally scoffed at this view. And since we in the audience also had a huge investment in this argument, I kept waiting for the discussion to be thrown open to the floor. Which it was but its flames were never fanned.
Instead of being forced to give answers that were short and measured, thus allowing more time for further questions, the two were allowed instead to wallow rather tiresomely in their own intellects.
Frankly, an opportunity missed (though at least no-one had to call ‘Security’).
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