Basildon has long been very wrongly vilified as a cultural and creative desert. As anyone who lives here will tell you, there are tremendous opportunities to get involved in the arts, whether that’s singing with the likes of Basildon Choral Society, Billericay Choral Society or Basildon Operatic, getting involved with drama with the Basildon Players, stepping out with innumerable dance groups, or enjoying works by creative artists like Dean Smith and Jeffrey Porter.
Through the Basildon Arts Trust, Basildon is home to a significant number of important post-war pieces of modern art.
Basildon District Council has also had a fair go at promoting the arts in the community, holding the first Basildon Black History Month in 2009 and, back in 2008, its Basildon Green Business Forum running the Basildon Art Challenge on the theme “Basildon is a Green Place to Be”.
Back in 1989, Basildon Council opened the Towngate Theatre – one of the more controversial capital projects undertaken in recent years and a regular political football between the local parties. After a period of closure, the Conservative administration has made an effort to get the theatre running again, though not without constant sniping that the existing building is inadequate. (One of the charges regularly levelled by the Tory administration is that the Towngate doesn’t have the capacity of modern theatres to attract the right sort of productions. This is a little disingenuous. The Council’s own seating capacity figures show it can take 546 seated or 775 standing. There are plenty of successful West End theatres with a smaller capacity e.g. the Cottesloe Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse, the Arts Theatre and the Fortune Theatre and I would be surprised if they had the backstage facilities, the bar and café facilities or the parking facilities of the Towngate Theatre. Basildon is 30 minutes out of London by c2c, one of the most reliable commuter lines in the country, and it is hard to wear “capacity” as an excuse for not putting more effort into making the Towngate Theatre more successful.)
So with this wealth of creative energy in Basildon, and with the Council not averse to encouraging it or tapping into it, it is a little amusing (bemusing?) to see administration members getting hot under the collar at the latest irreverence from the Ugly Wuggly Puppet Company.
Old Man Stan is a gruff, singing pensioner in the tradition of The Muppets who occasionally points the finger at the Council for various local inadequacies. Kevin Blake, the councillor responsible for for Arts and Leisure, hasn’t seen the funny side. He is reported in the Echo as saying:
I like Kevin and he has demonstrated a significant commitment to leisure activity in Basildon. He and I might contest the balance of priorities between sport and the arts, but I hadn’t expected him to have a sense of humour failure on something as creatively silly as this.
Art has always been subversive. It has always poked fun at authority. It is one of the blessings of living in a free society. Just occasionally, folk need to chill out a little.
As for my view? I love it. I think it’s creative, irreverent, mischievous and funny.
Have a look – and if you think I am wrong and Kevin has a point I am missing, I would very much appreciate your comments.