After several years of email friendship, I finally met Rustom on Friday evening. He's in London for a huge Shakespeare conference at King's, and clearly enjoying it enormously. Conversation with him is a stream of highly sophisticated consciousness: "These guys really know their stuff. We had Stanley Wells talking this morning. Amazing. About the Sonnets. And there was a woman from Canada who really challenged the canonical thing - asking whether we should abandon the numbering of the Sonnets. It's always numbering and ordering. Like the system which forces you to do lighting cues in a particular way. It's all being exploded though. When I was young in India we were taught John Galsworthy. Galsworthy! Then in 1978 Edward Said came along and everything changed. Everything. And now, they're approaching Shakespeare through post-colonial theory, through feminism, through queer theory.... I saw As You Like It at the Globe. Apparently it's one of their better productions. But I couldn't get the radicalism of the text I was hearing to fit with the safety of what I was seeing. I mean, in the end, the production becomes an affirmation of heterosexual marriage..."
I'm parodying, of course - it's exciting to be in the presence of somebody whose mind is so incisive and so eclectic. And great to feel that he's so supportive of all we are doing. He's really delighted about the notice Theatre and Slavery got in The Drama Review.
As part of the conference, we see an extract from a version of The Merchant of Venice performed by the Taiwanese BangZi Opera. This is a new form on me, though it has a great deal in common with Peking Opera (percussive puntuation) and with Yueju (sheng boots and a largely female cast). Shylock (a Saracen merchant in this version) is played by a tough little woman in a false beard, and is presented as a comic figure. Portia is romantic, Bassanio heroic, Antonio tragic. The naivety of the whole thing is actually rather refreshing, and we're reminded that, for centuries, this was how the play was done in the West. I never thought I'd actually see it like this!