Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Gaza Monologues - guest post by Ali Abu Yassin

Last night, we gave an online reading of THE GAZA MONOLOGUES as part of the International Day of Solidarity with Gaza. The monologues were written by young people in Gaza in 2010, in the aftermath of the first assault, guided by Ashtar Theatre. We were lucky enough to partner with Ashtar in 2014 and 2016, so their cause is particularly significant for us. Today we are publishing a letter from Ali Abu Yassin, who is one of Ashtar's directors, working in Gaza.  

Ali Abu Yassin, in the wreckage of Gaza
My friend

When I read your letters asking me to write a word about Gaza, I usually answer you immediately. This time, I was silent for days; the words escaped me. Why? Maybe because of the horror of what we are living, because early this morning, my family and I miraculously survived a crazy missile that destroyed our neighbour’s house, and threw all the rubble onto our house? Or because I feel that the pictures I see are more eloquent than all the words? or because I am no longer very convinced of the usefulness of talking, especially since we have been talking about the justice of our cause, in the midst of the daily killing, siege, starvation, and state terrorism which we have been subjected to over 75 years; with no answer?

My friend, yesterday, the Israeli occupation forces, bombed the Baptist Hospital in Gaza, and so far more than 500 people have been martyred. They were cut into pieces and became a pile of meat.

As playwrights, we know that one of the cruelest theatrical tragedies is the play Antigone, in which King Creon refuses to bury Antigone’s brother, and from here the dialogue between them revolves around what it means to be human, what is dignity, what is value, what are rights, even after death. Antigone sees the body of her brother in front of her and cannot bear leaving him unburied. While the bodies that we saw after the Baptist Hospital massacre, without heads, hands, or feet, are the new tragedy of our era.

An old woman at the rubble of the hospital addressed a nurse asking him: “Son, give me that hand lying there. I recognize it from the ring. It is my daughter’s hand that I leaned on in the morning when she helped me sit on the chair to watch the news. That hand that turned on the TV for me. She greeted me and kissed my hand before leaving. That hand that always embraced me and patted my shoulder. That hand that combed my hair and always cut my nails. That hand, my son, was the source of all my strength in my last days. Let me give her my last kiss, so that it will spare me the need to have more of my daughter’s body.”

My friend, I do not know what more to write. If you consider this a word, then read it to your friends and give them my thanks and appreciation, because I know that free people with big hearts, human attitudes, and principles have become very few these days.

We will meet one day, when I am free like the rest of the inhabitants of this earth.

Ali Abu Yassin
October 18, 2023

You can donate to Ashtar Theatre's work with traumatised young people in Palestine here:

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Remembering Dev Virahsawmy

Shaun Chawdhary as Prospero &
Catherine Mobley as Kordelia in TOUFANN

The Mauritian playwright Dev Virahsawmy, who has died at the age of 81, was one of Border Crossings' 21 Faces, when we marked our 21st anniversary with a retrospective in 2016. He wrote then that our 1999 translation and production of Toufann, his fantasy piece loosely based on The Tempest, had helped him become known outside Mauritius, and had convinced his sceptical countrymen that writing in Morisien (his preferred term for the Kreol language) could lead to international recognition. But truly it was we who owed a debt to him. Dev was a true pathfinder in the thorny thickets of intercultural work, showing how language, theatre and culture can and must combine in the process of forging new, more just socio-political spaces for a decolonising world. He was my constant guide to the shifting fortunes of his island home, with his penetrating intelligence constantly placing the Mauritian experience in its global context. When we made our play on Mauritian history, The Great Experiment, it just had to be Dev whom we invited to be our interlocutor for the online discussion conducted during lockdown. 

That was three years ago. Looking back to that time, I realise that in May 2020 Dev also wrote us a "Guest Blog of Farewell", marking his retirement from public life. He knew then, of course, that he was ill, but he didn't really retire. Only in August, Nisha and I were able to visit him at his Rose-Hill home, where he told us about his excitement that Morisien was finally to be used as a key language for schooling, enabling Mauritian children to be taught in their mother tongue. It was a triumph that he had accomplished, with the help of some far-sighted Catholic bishops, after a lifetime of campaigning, and it was wonderful that he lived to see it. On the other hand, he also talked about the way in which Narendra Modi's populist India was becoming ever more dominant in the Mauritian economic and culture spheres, countering the entire de-colonial process with which he had been engaged throughout his life.

As he always did, Dev gave me copies of his latest books, mostly poetry, and inscribed them with very personalised and touching words. This time, however, Loga, Dev's wife of 59 years, gave me the book he had always refused to write, and which she had therefore taken on herself. Lotus Flower: A Conversation with Dev Virahsawmy is a biography, a dialogue and a love letter by the person who was closest to him, and it taught me a huge amount I didn't know about my friend. You can read it online - please do!  What Loga is able to show is what the various obits and Dev's Wikipedia page fail to understand. Dev was not a political activist who also wrote plays and poems, nor was he a language scholar who insisted on writing in the obscure dialect of a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. Rather, Dev's life project combined language campaigning with cultural activity and political activism as a single, unified project - you cannot understand any one part of his achievement without the others. Dev realised very early in his life that Morisien was a real, dynamic and poetic language, and was also the sole common cultural property of the Mauritian people. In the language, therefore, lay the potential for the emergence of a national culture, and in that lay the potential to escape the ongoing colonialism that continues to exploit the peoples of the global south. In his youth, Mauritius was a British colony, and retained close links to France (to this day there is a lobby that maintains, absurdly, that Morisien is actually just a bastardised French). He was 28 when Mauritius achieved independence, and he was active in the campaign to prevent the independent island going the way of other former colonies in the region. As Loga explains: "The sugar barons who had complete control over the economy of Mauritius were planning to set up apartheid in Mauritius with the help of apartheid South Africa and apartheid Northern Rhodesia under Ian Smith." After that threat was avoided, Dev's politics and writing were both focused on building an independent nation with its own language, fighting off the neo-colonial incursions of the superpowers. In his 1981 piece Zeneral Makbef, the battle is with the warring giants Yankidola and Rouspoutik. By the time he came to Toufann, he was already aware of the emerging Hindu hegemony in Mauritius, and the threat posed to the intercultural island by an alliance between that single ethnic group and an increasingly assertive Hindu nationalist movement in India. If Dev's Indian Prospero had managed to take revenge on the former coloniser Lerwa Lir (=King Lear, =Britain and France), then that did not in itself mean there would be any hope for the mixed-race Kreol Kalibann. By the 2020s, Dev's worst fears were being realised, and one of his last interviews is an extraordinary plea with the Mauritian people to resist this new colonisation. 

I said earlier that Dev knew in 2020 that he was ill. Actually, he had always been ill: he had childhood polio which left him without the use of one arm, and suffered from post-polio syndrome. What sustained him throughout his life was his total commitment to social justice, and the love of his family. I send my love and sympathy to Loga, Saskia, Anushka, and Dev's grandchildren Anastasia, Yann and Rachel. 

"Apres sa ena zist silense."

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Arrival, Adana, Antakya

Women making bread by the roadside, Antakya

Just over a week ago, Lucy and I arrived in Turkey to begin work on Suppliants of Syria. We're partnering with our old friends from Çukurova University in Adana, where the wonderful İlke Şanlıer combines her role in the Film and TV department with directing the Research Centre in Migration.  It's the perfect combination for a project that combines theatre and film with an active engagement in the ongoing refugee  "crisis". The theme is being lent additional potency by the current situation in Palestine: just after we arrived, a very large protest in support of Palestine took place at the airbase in Adana, where American planes and personnel are stationed. The police used tear gas and water cannon to prevent people entering the base; but that doesn't mean that the government isn't sympathetic to the protestors' expression of solidarity between Muslims.  

We've been able to establish a relationship with the Meryem Women's Co-operative: a fabulous organisation that enables Syrian women to work in areas like gardening and food production. A group of around 20 of them are in the process of becoming our Chorus. We've also been filming and researching in and around the city. I don't want to write too much about this as yet, because it needs time to absorb what we're seeing. Today we went to an area of Adana known as "Little Aleppo" on account of its large Syrian population.  The poverty was very apparent. Many of the people there seem to eke out a living by selling discarded or recycled clothes which they show piled in the streets. Earlier in the week I visited Antakya: the city to the south of Adana which bore the brunt of the earthquake earlier this year. Antakya also has links to Syria: the majority of the pre-earthquake population spoke Arabic, and Syrian maps still show the area as part of their country, which they regard as having been annexed by the Turkish Republic in 1939.  The city is utterly devastated. My friend Ali, who now lives near me in London, showed me round what remained of his childhood home. He often could not work out where he was, because there were no landmarks remaining. He would occasionally stop and examine the remains of a cornice or a metal door, and then say "This must be the old bank..."

And yet, in spite of everything, life endures. Ali's parents had a 100 year old house in the rural hinterland: it was destroyed.  But Ali's father Mehmet, at the age of 69, has single-handedly build a new living space beside the rubble where the old house stood, and on Wednesday night we ate the traditional meal for the end of the olive harvest and the production of the new olive oil on that land.  In the middle of the wreckage, Ali pointed out a plant. "It's a tomato plant", he said. "It used to be on the balcony just above where it is now." Somehow it survived - and is thriving. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

Film and the Indigenous

Chasing the Light

Back in 2017, I had an email from Martin Scorsese's office. We were screening a film called Chasing the Light, by Navajo director Blackhorse Lowe, as part of ORIGINS. "Mr Scorsese" the email told me, "would really like to see this film." I put them in touch with Blackhorse. Hopefully something came of it.

What's undeniable about this little footnote in film history is that it proves Martin Scorsese really does do his homework. His new epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, is a deeply serious engagement with Indigenous culture, specifically that of the Osage people. Ceremonies, language and culture are all meticulously recreated, and (I understand) this is done with total accuracy. The story it tells is a true one, and is appalling: an Osage woman whose married name was Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone) had her family murdered by her husband Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro), so they could get their hands on the wealth that came to the Osage when oil was discovered under their reservation lands. 

The film is a masterful piece of storytelling, but it also seems to be a white man's story. Mollie and her family have little agency in the film. At one point she travels to Washington, although even that is to appeal to the President. Otherwise they are on the receiving end of active malice. It is also very much male malice, and the Indigenous characters are almost all women. Somehow, despite all the careful research, the conventions of the movies still seem to be winning through. The key relationship in the film is not even between Mollie and Ernest, but between Ernest and William. Beside the history, it seemed to me that the key source text was actually Othello. De Niro's Machiavellian manipulator plays Iago to DiCaprio's naive, gullible Othello: and the result is that the audience ends up feeling sorry for Ernest. Yes: the hero of the film is the man who murders his Native American family. And that is discomfiting, to say the least.

Killers of the Flower Moon

I was very struck by the comments of Christopher Cote, who was an Osage consultant to the film. "This history is being told almost from the perspective of Ernest Burkhart and they kind of give him this conscience and kind of depict that there’s love. But when somebody conspires to murder your entire family, that’s not love." Quite so.

I did, however, see a truly great Indigenous film at this year's London Film Festival, and that was The New Boy: the latest feature by Kaytetye (Indigenous Australian) director Warwick Thornton, whose previous work includes Samson and Delilah and Sweet Country, both of which we've screened at ORIGINS. The success of those films has given Warwick a lot of kudos: he was able to attract the great Cate Blanchett to appear in The New Boy. When I meet him at the screening he jokes "She was a bit raw when she came to the shoot, but we managed to get her into shape." However, it is not Blanchett who dominates this film but a child actor with scarce a word to say, Aswan Reid. 

Aswan Reid in The New Boy

Reid's character, known only as "the new boy", arrives at an orphanage run by Blanchett's Sister Eileen, where he encounters Christianity on a very profound level, accessing it through his own Indigenous spirituality. Actual snakes, real blood...  Thornton, like many Indigenous artists whose people encountered the church in its complex amalgam of compassion and exploitation, has long had a very ambivalent relationship with the Christian faith. In his 2011 short Stranded, a figure hangs on a neon cross above the red desert landscape of the Australian north. The title of Samson and Delilah is Biblical.  I don't think this makes him a Christian filmmaker, least of all in this new work, but it does demonstrate an understanding that Christianity is not only an oppressive force, and that on some level it may be able to enter into a genuinely productive dialogue with Indigenous worldviews. 

Of course, that won't happen until the cultural landscape gives equal weight to both sides of every story.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Invisible Indigeneity

Rafael Montero and Kate Smith in LOYOLA

Back in August, I directed a short opera for El Parnaso Hyspano at the Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival. We called it LOYOLA, but it was originally titled San Ignacio Loyola, and was written by Domenico Zipoli, a Jesuit musician, on the missions in Latin America. Given that the missions’ purpose was to evangelise the Indigenous people, and that the title role was sung by Rafael Montero, who is himself an Indigenous Latin American, this was never going to be a “straight” opera production. As I wrote in an earlier post, we felt obliged (and excited) to take on board the Indigenous viewpoint on the context in which the piece was originally created, and to ask what this music could signify in the very different historical moment of its present performance. That was why I decided to turn it into the dream of a dying Indigenous man (also called Rafael Montero - the name was on the hospital bed); to emphasise his rejection of conventional religion in the figure of the Demon (who became a priest, in a way that was entirely consistent with Zipoli’s text); and to read his passing on of his mission to a younger colleague as a call to action for an activist allied to Indigenous causes. 

The weird thing was: nobody seemed to notice.

This isn’t a rant about bad reviews. Actually the reviews were very positive. Nor is it an artistic flip about how audiences can’t understand my creative genius. But I do think it’s important to ask why, when something so basic as a performer’s ethnic and cultural identity becomes central to a production, it should be almost universally overlooked. In a way this isn’t even to do with my directorial decisions, which were as much the result of Rafael singing the role of Loyola as of my own interest in Indigenous issues. It’s to do with how the performing body is read in the current political and cultural context.

What does it mean to cast performers “from diverse backgrounds”? “Diverse” has come to mean “non-white” (as if whiteness were some neutral norm from which everything else is a “diversion”), rather than its original meaning, a synonym for “various”. We are all “diverse”. But prevailing modes of thinking tend to assume that the labels of identity politics only apply to people who have in some way been historically excluded. So “gender” is regarded as something that women and trans people have, but is rarely applied to men. “Ethnicity” is seen as something that Black and Asian people have, but white people do not (I remember a director saying that she wanted a cast with “more ethnicity”, not realising that there could only be as much ethnicity as there were actors). I am a great believer in diversity, particularly in theatre, because it leads to difference, richness and the fusion (or fission) of multiple viewpoints, all of which are conducive to drama and to democracy. So I find it odd when “diverse casting” is treated as something inherently desirable but also as something to be ignored. As the Chair of our board, Jatinder Verma, has often argued, theatre signifies through the live body on stage, and so the audience reads that body, including its various identifying characteristics. We do see race, gender, age, (dis)ability etc. - whether or not people are cast according to the character they play having the same characteristics as the performer. This is why it’s possible to make audacious and brilliant casting decisions like Adrian Lester as Rosalind or Henry V, Kathryn Hunter as Richard III, Nahil Shaban as Haile Selassie. These performers bring themselves to the roles, disrupting the way the audience views the character by virtue of who they are. I realise that all these examples date from some years ago. Maybe the landscape is a little different now, a little more literal, a little less open to disruption? 

Related to this is the current orthodoxy that characters who are from non-white backgrounds, trans characters, disabled characters etc. must be played by actors who share those specific characteristics. I don’t disagree with this. It’s not an absolute and eternal rule, of course, but an ethical movement specific to the present time, an adjustment that needs to be made in view of the historical injustices that have led to people with these characteristics being excluded from the stage and screen, where they were portrayed through such “virtuosic” performances as Laurence Olivier’s Othello and Daniel Day-Lewis’s Christy Brown. The idea that only black men should now play Othello is what Gayatri Spivak has called “strategic essentialism”. Race is not actually essential - but at the present moment in history it is in the interests of justice and equality to behave as if it were.

How does this relate to what happened when Rafael performed LOYOLA? I think the audience found itself faced with a choice between two prevailing ways of reading his Indigenous body. One would be that the character is literally (perhaps “essentially”) an Indigenous person, which St Ignatius Loyola clearly was not. So the audience (and the critics) turned to the second orthodoxy, which is that ethnicity and cultural background should be ignored when non-white people play “white” roles. The possibility that the performer’s ethnic identity might be considered when they play a character of a different race, even if the whole production is structured around this, seems to be something that can no longer be considered. 

This is very unfortunate, and plays absolutely into the hands of the theatrical establishment, which has always survived by being what Lawrence Stone called the British aristocracy - “An Open Elite”. Apparent outsiders are absorbed and assimilated, so long as they continue to play by the rules. “Look at us, aren’t we wonderful, we’ve got a black Hamlet / Hamilton / Harry Potter.”  The underlying mythologies of the great tragic prince, the founding father or the boy wizard are not in any way questioned or undermined by such casting - indeed, they are reinforced by the “inclusive” gesture. It makes it very difficult to offer an audience casting decisions that genuinely shift the ground, because the audience has become very nervous of reading them that way.

In the scene where he sent his follower Frances (San Francisco Xavier) out to fulfil his mission, Rafael’s Loyola sang about the need to bring truth to the poor people who dwell in ignorance.  And pointed at the audience.

LOYOLA: Tara Venkatesan, Biraj Barkakaty,
Rafael Montero

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Loyola - opera meets the Indigenous

Rafael Montero

I've been directing a new opera production for presentation at the Arcola's Grimeborn Festival, for a company called El Parnaso Hyspano, led by the Indigenous tenor Rafael Montero, who was so impressive in the Celebrating Peru performance we curated at the British Museum last year. The piece, which we're calling Loyola, was originally entitled San Ignacio Loyola, and was written by a Jesuit composer called Domenico Zipoli for the missions in Latin America, where the performers would have been Indigenous singers and musicians. The score suggests that they must have sung and played European baroque to a very high standard, and at the same time hints at the inclusion of musical traditions from the locality itself. The inclusion in our production of Johnny Rodriguez on percussion and Andean pipes follows through on that line of thought, and it sounds wonderful....  

Johnny's presence, like that of Rafael singing the title role, is entirely "authentic", but of course feels strange and radical in the context of a European performance. Zipoli wrote his da capo arias and secco recitatives for Indigenous people to perform, but a European audience associates these sounds with European singers and players. What's more, the title character was none other than the founder of the Jesuit order: a hero of the European Counter-Reformation, determined to evangelise what he regarded as the ignorant pagans of the Americas and Asia. The Jesuits, whose successes included being consulted by the Emperor of China himself, were in many ways a triumphalist and militant prototype for contemporary models of ideological globalisation. 

The conductor Gabriel Garrido, with whom I worked on Xerxes for ENO some years ago, and from whom I learnt a lot about the jazz-like world of the baroque, made a recording of the opera which you can watch on YouTube. I like the musical performance, and the staging is probably as "authentic" as you can be - but it is also, frankly, ludicrous, and feels almost offensive in the 21st century. We really cannot perform a straight, unquestioning glorification of cultural imperialism in the era of #BlackLivesMatter, least of all with an Indigenous person in the title role. But perhaps that Indigenous presence suggests a way in which this music can be re-created for the 21st century, revisiting the cross-cultural dialogue that was, in its own lop-sided way, at the heart of the original creation.

What if our Loyola is not a Jesuit firebrand but an Indigenous teacher? What if the people who live in ignorance are not the Native people of the Americas and Asia but the imperialists themselves and their descendants, who continue to profit from their ancestors' incursions and whose profiteering now threatens the planet itself? How, in that case, might we portray the Angels who tell Loyola to get out of his convalescent bed and become active in the world? Who might be the Demon that tempts him towards a life of ease and complacency? What legacy might he want to pass on to his chosen successor, and how might we portray that missionary figure for today? 

These questions have been the spur to making our production. 

Friday, June 02, 2023

Antigone in the Amazon

Antigone in the Amazon:
Kay Sara on screen, Frederico Arujo on stage
On April 17th 1996, at a place called Eldorado de Carajás, in the state of Pará, Brazilian police opened fire on a group of land-reform activists who were occupying a stretch of the Trans-Amazonian highway. Nineteen people died immediately, and a further two died of their wounds shortly afterwards. Many more were injured. The leadership of the Landless Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) continues to commemorate this massacre, with the anniversary marked as the International Day of Peasant Struggles.

This year, as part of their collaboration with NTGent and director Milo Rau, MST re-enacted the massacre in the place where it happened, with as much accuracy as possible. Rau has re-created historical events before, for example in The Last Days of the Ceausescus, but this time the reconstruction was made specifically for film, with the aim of framing it within his new theatre-piece, Antigone in the Amazon. The cast includes a part-Indigenous Brazilian actor, Frederico Araujo, who was told he bore a marked resemblance to the first activist who was shot. In the complex, self-reflexive dramaturgy that was evolving, that young man and Araujo himself melded with the figure of Antigone's dead and unburied brother, Polyneices.

I took the Eurostar, changed trains in Brussels, absorbed the beauty of the city, visited the exhibition about Rau's recent work, and watched the play. 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a great admirer of Milo Rau, having watched many of his pieces during the online theatre-fest of lockdown, read the Golden Books and (only a few weeks ago) watched Hate Radio live at BAC. His understanding of the need to make theatre that embraces and exposes global issues is very much in tune with our own work; as is his insistence on real, deep, international, intercultural collaboration. There are even some weird coincidences: we have both made films in Matera, for example! The fact that Antigone in the Amazon was to be a collaboration with Indigenous activists made this one of my most eagerly anticipated theatre experiences. And it was certainly a long time coming...  The first discussions between MST and Rau took place in 2018, and the development of the project began in early 2020, only to be interrupted by Covid. The pandemic was particularly intense in the Amazon, with a neo-fascist government under Bolsanoro that refused to impose lockdowns, while his ministers called it an “opportunity” for illegal logging in the Amazon. The hospital corridors of Manaus were lined with corpses, and people had to be thrown into mass graves. Nevertheless, NTGent continued to remind the world that the project was still bubbling away, particularly when Kay Sara, the Indigenous performer and activist cast as Antigone, delivered online the speech with which she was to have opened the 2020 Wiener Festwochen. 

It is an extraordinary, moving and intense piece of oratory. From the start, Kay Sara is clear that she is personally safe: "Nature surrounds me, it protects me and nourishes us too. I live in the rhythm of birds singing and the rain and perform an ancient ritual for my protection. For the first time in over 500 years, Europe and America are separated again." That last sentence seems particularly resonant, coming from an Indigenous woman at a time when an imported virus was once again coursing through her people, as has happened to Indigenous Americans ever since smallpox arrived with Columbus and Cortés. Colonialism, in all its monstrous, rapacious arrogance, remains the root cause of the agonies besetting the Amazon and its people. If only Europe were separate from America, she seems to be saying, then perhaps we could heal.

And so, she goes on to tell her European audience: "Now it is time for you to be silent. The time has come to listen. You need us, the prisoners of your world, to understand yourselves. Because the thing is so simple: there is no gain in this world, there is only life. And that’s why it’s good that I’m not on the Burgtheater stage. That I’m not talking to you as an actress, because it’s not about art anymore, it’s not about theatre anymore. Our tragedy happens here and now, in the world, before our very eyes."

In the past, Milo Rau has been accused of a lack of equity in some of his international collaborations. Orestes in Mosul, for example, was criticised as having made use of Iraqi performers within a largely self-serving European structure, led by "white saviours". I'm not sure I entirely agree with this assessment: after all the play featured Susana AbdulMajid, whose heritage goes back to Mosul, and led to the establishment of a film school in the city. But it's been striking how, since that production, Rau has deliberately engaged in close dialogues with significant figures from the communities featured in his work, for example casting the Cameroonian activist Yvan Sagnet as Jesus in The New Gospel. Kay Sara's performance as Antigone continues that positive trend.

Except that she wasn't there. 

Quite early in the show, Frederico Araujo holds up a phone and plays her voice, introducing herself as an Indigenous woman. She is seen in the film, crying over his body as Polyneices, introducing the European actors to people in the Amazon. She was in Ghent for rehearsals. But, as Milo Rau rather cryptically puts it in the programme: "We understood only  during the film shootings in Brazil and during the last weeks of  rehearsals in Europe that Kay Sara’s place is in her home country, as part of the political Brazilian struggle." This is very resonant with her speech for the Festwochen: it seems that Kay Sara has come to feel that she is better off separating herself from European people as far as possible, and working within her own community. I understand that she has stated this will be her last collaboration with Europeans. Of course, I don't know the details, but the departure of this remarkable, insightful and impassioned artist is troubling for any European hoping to open up channels of communication between cultures, and to address global issues through theatre. In order to deal with globalisation, the child of colonialism, we have to address ourselves to European and North American cities, because that is where the colonial project began, and that is where it is still entrenched, at enormous profit (as today's Guardian makes clear). It would be narcissistic to imagine we can or should do this alone: we have to work in dialogue with peoples whose lands and cultures were and are colonised, and we have to recognise the challenges and nuances of such collaborations. But if the dialogue is refused or the collaboration is withdrawn, then we are left to wait in silence for a global revolution that will come from elsewhere. Perhaps that is what we have to do - but it feels absurdly passive at a moment when we are starting to accept responsibility and to understand the necessity of global collaboration as the only way forward.

Antigone in the Amazon deals with these questions very well: it's been forced to do so, and perhaps that's a good thing. As well as presenting the horror of the 1996 massacre and leading the audience to understand its context and the need for activism, there is also a reckoning with the ambiguous position occupied by the European activist and artist. The Flemish actor Arne De Tremerie reflects on the experience of being in the Amazon, the privilege he felt that he could go there while most of the people he met were unable to travel, his sense of “a guilt complex disguised as activism.” As well as his original role as Polyneices, Frederico Araujo plays the onstage Antigone: and there's an extraordinary sense of his reaching towards his Indigenous identity at the same time as being aware of his own form of privilege, encapsulated in his distance from that heritage. I was left wondering whether the play was made poorer or paradoxically richer by Kay Sara's physical absence. But that isn't really the point, of course. The play is an intervention in an ongoing and profoundly complex political process, and so it expresses the current moment in that process, the place where we stand right now, which is (rightly) very uncomfortable. As the first of the rolling titles says: "This is not The End".

I am grateful to the Research Office at Rose Bruford College for funding my visit to Ghent.