Don's Diary

September 29, 2000


Finish writing a political biography of Nobel prizewinner Dario Fo and decide to translate his play Mum's Marijuana Is the Best. It has never been performed in English before. This is my first attempt at translation.


Decide to set the play in Blair's Britain, so Mandelson and the gang all come in for sarcastic references: my favourite is placing Alastair Campbell up a priest's arse, with a bright white light shining out.


A young amateur actor, James Bellorini, and I start to clean up a long script for a rehearsed reading at an international conference on Fo in Cambridge. Acting for the first time, I cast myself out of character as a police officer who comes to check on this subversive gathering. Worryingly for me, my performance is totally believable. The reading goes well, with mention of the hapless Frank Dobson getting the biggest laugh. It raises Pounds 135 for the Cambridge Two campaign, aimed at freeing the workers of a Cambridge homeless hostel sentenced to four and five years' imprisonment.


Start to understand how expensive a production can be. To cut costs, the 3ft joint used as a prop will now contain only tobacco. Discover at the garden centre that tomato plants look uncannily like cannabis and are a lot cheaper. I empty the shelves.


An opportunity arises to stage the play at the Socialist Workers Party annual conference on Marxism in London. There is political symmetry in terms of the venue and audience for the premiere, since Fo has largely been performed outside the commercial theatrical circuit since 1968. Continue to add references as stories unfold: after her revelation that she smoked joints in the 1960s, Mo Mowlam is codenamed "the inhaler".


A reduced version of the play runs for three nights. Expect a couple of reviews as organiser has contacted 120 media outlets and, after all, this is the English premiere of a play by the world's leading radical dramatist. This diary is the first public comment on the event. Overall I'm pleased but confused: my six-month exposure to amateur dramatics has taught me that so-called "luvvies" are far from Blairite.


Queen Mum's reaching 100 reminds me of a recent scandal at Buckingham Palace: the discovery of cannabis leaves in the kitchens. Tempted to change title to explain her longevity: Great Grandmum's Marijuana Is the Best. Finish two other Fo plays never performed in English before: The Boss's Funeral and The Worker Knows 300 Words the Boss Knows 1,000 That's Why He's the Boss.


The university is due to award Fo an honorary degree. Hopefully he will also see a student performance of Mum's Marijuana.

Tom Behan is senior lecturer in Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Dario Fo: Revolutionary Theatre is published by Pluto Press, Pounds 10.99.

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