Thursday, September 04, 2008

"An Audience with... Tony Benn" - September 2008

Audiences at the Citizens' are always generous with their applause (at times to a fault) so it wasn't entirely unexpected to see the rapturous response given to Tony Benn - including several people visibly restraining the urge to leap to their feet. Apart from one small detail - this was the response when he walked on to the stage. And nearly two hours later he left the stage to even greater acclamation and a standing ovation from the majority of the sell out theatre. Such is the esteem and affection in which he is held, and it isn't too hard to see why.

At 83 he may be a little slow on his feet and slightly deaf, but mentally he remains razor sharp. After a 30 minute run through where he shares his thoughts on what he believes to be the burning issues of our time. Following a series of anecdotes and perceptive insights into world affairs, we move on to the Q&A element of the evening. And sadly here the evening falters a little - partly due to a poor format but largely due to a Glasgow audience that should know better. As frequently seems to happen at such events, questions are turned into speeches in the style of Westminster PMQs resulting (rightly) at times with questioners being heckled to 'get to the question'. What also doesn't help is the fact that Mr Benn's hearing difficulty means questions from the further back areas of the theatre then have to be repeated (and contracted) by his on stage assistant. It results in valuable time being taken up by questions of little interest to anyone other than the questioner (including what appeared to be a request for more research into cold fusion). And a microphone or two in the audience wouldn't have gone amiss, although experience has shown that these Q&A sessions work best when the audience are asked to provide written questions pre-show or during the interval as this keeps them short and to the point and avoids opportunities for speechmaking. Alternatively some strong moderation could do wonders in maintaining the flow.

But despite the poor quality of some questions, this was an entertaining and insightful evening and gave Glasgow an opportunity to show its appreciation for one of the country's true democrats and a man of principles - whether you agree with him or not.

Tony Benn has a number of tour dates planned across the UK