In the 1930s there was a tendency among the English intelligentsia towards Marxism.  The First World War had left terrible scars, and despotic aspects of British imperialism sickened a generation exposed to four years of military idiocy.  Marxism was idealistic, and so it was fashionable to be pro-Russian, despite published information as to the fearsome and repressive nature of the Soviet regime.  World War II and Hitler's eastern invasion made bedfellows of Russia and the West, to be followed immediately by a stand-off between the two emergent world powers, and the Cold War.

       But idealism is not easily snuffed out.  In the new prosperity of the 60s and 70s neo-Marxism flourished.  To be on the left was de rigueur.  Every political grouping claimed to be lefter than thou (good old English puritanism conjoining by chance with the meek and gentle forbearances of the hippy movement.)  Television directors sat on expensive black sofas proclaiming power to the people.  A famous actress stood outside the Soho Poly Theatre in the rain handing out leaflets, an old scarf tied round her head like a Holocaust victim - gesture politics from a woman who had never been without a hot bath in her life.

        It was, in a way, endearing, even heart-warming to see a new generation so well-fed and unoppressed that they could play mock politics - viz the 1968 Paris "uprising" when the Comedie Francaise got trashed.  In the 1980s Thatcher said "There is no such thing as society."  Consumerism was God - well, who doesn't want a warm, dry house and toys?  And then the Berlin wall came down and the invasion of the West by the rest of the world began.  How to stop it?  Perhaps political refugees could be given acceptance, but the poor as well?  Could these invasions be legitimate? - mea culpa had been a liberal theme since the turn of the century.

      It is not fashionable to write overtly political plays nowadays.  In the 70s it was mandatory.  Those of us who chose to hide the emetic under the jam and attempted restraint from imposition were likely to be dismissed as marginal, if not reactionary.  Dramatic metaphor today is polarised between the cute and the impenetrable.  You pick your shtick - not, you hope, as laughably non-existent as the Emperor's new clothes, neither inaccessibly Manichean, that condescending mode, nor irrelevantly exciting.  Writers have many weapons - suspense, terror, titillation and humour (the most lethal and the least respected.)

        For a play about today I used the memory of a woman I once knew.  She was a Russian Jewess who, having escaped from Nazi Germany, had married a man she loathed in order to get British citizenship.  She was stunningly and exotically  beautiful, cultured, multi-lingual, highly intelligent, and cut a swathe through the 50s literary world...she had a penchant for poets.  But, underneath, there was detachment.  She suffered depressions.  And there was always the underlying contempt: "What do you know?"

        As a species we are troubled by injustice - thank God.  In the prosperous, industrialised West there is still want and deprivation for so many people.  Why?  We have the information, the solutions - enough to feed and house the world.  Perhaps all we need is love, or at least instruction on how and why to respect the needs of strangers.  In Petersburg recently a tired and respectable-looking man offered me a currency deal on the street.  I said I was leaving for London the next day and offered him cigarettes for goodwill.  He went red with humiliation and walked away.

        The real-life model for Natalya is dead.  In "Natalya" the play, she is a survivor.  Criminal of course.

                                                                                                                                   Pam Gems