Helsinki wears The Overcoat

Edinburgh Fringe hit ‘The Overcoat’ opened this week in Helsinki ‘s Ryhmäteatteri to sell-out crowds.  It is the first time a play has been performed in English by the company.

A six strong cast of Scottish actors performed the modern adaptation of Gogol’s story in English, as it had appeared at the Pleasance dome in August.  The play by Esa Leskinen and Sami Keski-Vähälä was a huge hit in Finland originally, and was brought to Edinburgh this summer as part of the project ‘From Start To Finnish’ – a cultural export project made in association with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.

For the Scottish production, Catherine Grosvenor adapted the original, setting it in Edinburgh.  The show retained the madcap comedy and satire of the original.   Tearing into the banking crisis, the show received rave reviews at the Fringe and Billy Mack won the Stage award for best actor for his role as the protagonist Akaky McKaky, an unassuming bank clerk.

The Overcoat opened at Ryhmäteatteri on Tuesday and was warmly received, much to the relief of Mack:  “I wasn’t sure how it would carry with the Finnish audience.” He said. “A lot of the Scottish gags got lost, but they laughed a lot, especially at the financial stuff, and the surprising thing was when a group of people said ‘We didn’t expect Akaky to be so humble’ – I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”

Director Aleksis Meaney wasn’t surprised that the production travelled well because of the themes of the play:  “I think ordinary people increasingly feel that their lives are fragile, that their sense of control is being taken away from them.  What the Overcoat does is combine social message with an emotional story.  There is a tradition of social justice in Finland, people care about the wee guy, and I believe that there is a similar tradition in Scotland” he said.

Meaney also feels the play has been prophetic: “The bank manager says ‘I have to get out of Europe before it disappears in a black hole of its own debt.’- and that is coming true!” he said.

A majority of twenty prominent economists polled by Reuters yesterday predicted that the euro zone was unlikely to survive the crisis in its current form.


Greece revolts against more austerity

Half a million Greek public sector workers will stop work today for two hours in protest against more austerity measures currently being voted in by the Greek parliament.

Earlier today Riot police clashed with workers at Greece’s biggest power producer PPC.  A march is underway to the Portuguese embassy in Athens in solidarity with Portuguese workers who are also striking today.  This happens as the EU treaty is under threat on a fundamental level, as France and Germany come to loggerheads about strategy and Greece teeters on the edge of European survival.

Greece has “one last chance” to stay in the Euro zone, the Bank of Greece warned on Wednesday. Greek unemployment will near 17 per cent this year, and could top 18 per cent next year, it said.  The Greek government has admitted that 10 billion euros are turned over by illegal loan sharks, and half of those who take on such loans have suffered property losses or a breakdown in their marriage.

Greek journalist, DJ and blogger Chryssa Skodra, 27, says the Greeks have been misrepresented in the world’s media.  “Certain people are directing public opinion.  What the media doesn’t show is that the Greek people are hardworking people.  According to Eurostat they work the longest weekly hours in Europe.  They are being portrayed as lazy.” She said.

On a recent business trip to Germany Skodra encountered this first hand.  “In the airport at security, I gave my bottle of water to the guard, and he took my passport and said ‘you’re the reason our economy is down’- I was in shock.  Then a taxi driver made some comments too.” She said “of course I don’t blame them, I blame the politicians and the media.” said Skodra

“The Politicians are saying ‘we’re doing this to save Greece’ but they’re not saving the Greeks, they’re saving their bankers and their companies.  Germany owns Greece now.  They own telecommunication, transportation.” She said

Skodra, who worked as part of the Olympic Games in 2004, has seen a polarisation of wealth and a rapid decrease in living standards in her country.  Higher taxes were seen as ‘patriotic’ by Greeks who were keen to host the world’s biggest sporting event, at the same time as the transition to the euro put up the cost of basic essentials.  “My parents are blue collar workers, and now they are being asked to pay immense taxes.  My father was a mine worker for 26 years, and retired last year.  It took him a year to receive his first pension payment because all the pensions were frozen.  He’s also received less, even though he paid tax on the full amount.” she said.

“My mother called me in tears on Saturday because at the market in Kozani, there were Greek people collecting the leftovers and cabbages from the street.  The Greeks are a proud people, if something falls on the floor in their own house, they throw it away, and now they are eating from the street.  People are going up in front of judges for their debts and saying ‘send me away’.  There are people setting themselves on fire.  Do you see that in your media?” said Skodra.

Conservative leader Antonis Samaras offered a written pledge to the EU and IMF yesterday backing Greece’s bailout deal.

Germany itself has been rocked by news that the German debt agency couldn’t find buyers for almost half a Bond sale.  That has pushed the cost of borrowing up and puts into question the belief that Germany can guarantee the debts of other countries.

Salmond: Teacher Strike is “premature”

Today in parliament Alex Salmond praised Scottish teachers,
but refused to bow to impending strike action.
Teachers have responded by accusing the First Minister of ‘serving platitudes’.

Last week members of Scotland’s largest teaching union voted overwhelmingly to join other public sector workers in a national day of strike action on the 30th November. Salmond used first ministers questions today to praise the work of teachers. “I bow down to no-one who doesn’t recognise the contribution of Scottish teachers to Scottish Education” he said. But he also claimed that any move toward strike action was ‘premature’

“I’m a supply teacher. Our pay has been slashed already” said Scottish teacher Donna McGlynn, “but this strike is even bigger. It’s about pensions and it’s about the loss of McCrone time, meaning teachers will work more hours for less pay. It’s been over 20 years since teachers went on strike. Alex Salmond should see that we don’t do things like this lightly. It’s just platitudes. He has to see the severity of what’s going on in our profession. All these proposed changes will have a severe impact on our children’s futures, the education of generations. It’s a pebble dropped in a pond, but I fear the ripple effect.”

EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith said that the 82% vote in favour of industrial action showed “The patience of teachers and lecturers has been exhausted. Faced with a wide ranging attack on their pensions, on top of a two-year pay freeze, rampant inflation and education budget cuts, our members are signalling that ‘enough is enough’.”

Salmond also accused the Westminster Government of “Poisoning the atmosphere with regard to public sector workers” but vowed that they would get fairer conditions in an independent Scotland.