Monday, 25 October 2010

Levitt promotes 'Making Allowance' play on BBC Radio 4

After we wrote the last post, we discovered that Tom Levitt had actually appeared on BBC Radio 4's 'The World Tonight' last week to promote his forthcoming play 'Making Allowance'. We've managed to make a recording of the audio for posterity, and it can be heard along with a transcript of the interview by clicking the 'read more' button below.

During the interview, we learn that the play is to be held on two nights, Thursday 4th and Friday 5th November, with the latter date being obviously particularly appropriate - and no doubt intended by Levitt.

Predictably, Levitt labours on the poppy wreath claim - it's his usual trick to distract us from the claims for the greedy refurbishment of his flat, or the tax dodge which allowed him to pocket thousands, or even the athlete's foot-treating hairdryer. And whilst the presenter, Roger Hearing, takes him to task about the over-claim for mortgage costs, the whole sorry saga is nowhere near covered.

Levitt is clearly deeply wounded by this whole affair, to the extent that he can't help but return to the subject, and he stills feels that he has somehow been wronged. Roger Hearing is quite right to point out how disgusting this looks, at a time when millions of people are facing extreme financial hardship, redundancy, and distress.

Like we said in our last post, is there any reason why Levitt can't put on his play in his home town? We'd love to cover the play, but we're not prepared to spend money travelling down to London at short notice to heckle and give the audience more information - which we gladly do if this farce was staged closer to home.

We expect the audience will be composed largely of Levitt's peers and fellow MPs, which is entirely apt, since they are probably the only group of people who will have a shred of sympathy. Let's hope Levitt's 15 minutes of fame - after several months of infamy - is finally up.

Presenter: Now, do you remember Tom Levitt? Well up until the election, he was Labour MP for High Peak in Derbyshire, and had been for 13 years. But following the expenses scandal, he didn't stand again. The most famous or notorious aspect of his involvement in the scandal was an attempted claim for £16.50 for the cost of a poppy wreath laid on Remembrance Sunday. But he was, in the end, forced to repay £6000 after over-claiming on mortgage interest payments. Now you might have thought he would want to disappear from public life after that, but now he's written a play loosely based on what happened, and he'll be performing it at the New Diorama Theatre in North London, at the beginning of November. I asked him, why?

Levitt: I wrote the play over the Christmas recess last year after six months of living through the expenses scandals at first hand. It was instead of breaking windows I suppose; it's a way of expressing emotions and pent up feelings that had built up over that time, having been at the centre of an increasingly bizarre world for six months.

P: What, if we went to see this play, what would we see and hear?

Levitt: You wouldn't see a documentary - you'd see a drama, based on real life, much of which clearly is autobiographical, but certain dramatic and poetic liberties are taken with the story. But what you would see is me, basically, because the play has been adapted for one person to tell the story...

P: It's a monologue effectively?

Levitt: Not exactly, I'm acting out various scenes throughout it and it will be interesting, I hope, to watch, it will not just be a sort of theatrical equivalent of Talking Head.

P: I gather you've brought along part of the script, I wonder if you could perhaps give us a few lines from one of your speeches perhaps?

Levitt: (pathetic laugh) Well, this is the moment where the MP's wife hears what's going on:

"Darling, what do you think the man on the Council Estate will say when he's told he's paying your Council Tax and TV Licence?"
My excuses came pouring out, "look, it’s the second TV License we're talking about, the second Council Tax, my second home claim, and it's out of pocket expenses, it's not earning me any money"
"These are details, details; you spent the whole allowance the year before last!"
"Precisely, it's an allowance - Additional Cost Allowance - it's what we're allowed"
"Darling" she said "you can be so naive"

P: How do you think people are going to respond when they see and hear this kind of thing on the stage?

Levitt: They will realise immediately, that from the size of the theatre and the size of the audience - there's only 80 seats - that this is not a money-spinner. This is a...

P: Will you be making money from it?

Levitt: No, not at all, in fact it'll probably be costing me money!

P: Won’t it seem a bit of special pleading on behalf of someone who did wrong?

Levitt: Not at all, and this perception of what is wrong and what's right is an interesting one, because of course as far as the wreath is concerned - which is what I sort of got best known for - no money ever changed hands, I never received any claim back for it and in fact, I never actually authorised the claim to be made for it...

P: You did repay £6000 in relation to a mortgage claim though didn’t you?

Levitt: Over a period of time, there were a number of adjustments that had to be made, yes.

P: It's more than an adjustment - £6000 - isn’t it? It's more of a - you shouldn’t have taken it, and you did, and you had to repay it back?

Levitt: That, actually, is explained in the play - you're very welcome to come on the 4th and 5th of November and hear for yourself the background to that story, but as I say, this is not supposed to be a documentary - it's exploring the emotions that were going on by people who'd made claims by and large - and the vast majority of cases - in good faith, according to what were very weak and poorly drawn-up rules, very liberally enforced and, in a few cases, clearly deliberately not observed.

P: What will people in an age where people are facing savage cuts in their incomes, losing their jobs, think of you asking them to pay money to go and see a story about you, what you did - someone who actually took money from the public?

Levitt: I said it's not a documentary: it is a work of art and they should consider whether they want to come see it in exactly the same way as they'd go and see a film about 9/11 or anything else - I mean, I'm not saying it's on the same level as 9/11...

P: Don’t you think this will make quite a lot of people very angry?

Levitt: If they come and see it and they're angry, then I'm very happy to chat about it with them.

P: Are you nervous about going on stage and doing this?

Levitt: Slightly - but I have a very good producer and I'm getting more and more confident as the rehearsals go on.

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