Saturday, November 13, 2010


That's Boras - not Borat. Cultural Learnings of Sweden Make Benefit Glorious Nation China. The town where we performed last night.

To be honest, we didn't expect much of Boras. It's an industrial town, a bit grey and rainy, and nothing like as pretty as Skovde was in the snow the other day. The theatre is a converted 50s cinema, with architecture that wouldn't have disgraced Stalinism, and Filip confessed it was really only in the tour so that there were three regional venues. When we set out from Gothenberg yesterday morning, only 15 people had booked to see the show there, in spite of the radio and TV coverage.

In a way, I guess that meant the pressure was off. Lloyd, Amy and Dori were very relaxed as they sorted out the set and lights, and we looked through all the states in detail. We even had time to rehearse some of the more tricky scenes on the tiny stage. No dimmer panics here: a new improved show featuring actors in light! So - oddly - we had rather a wonderful night. Especially since the audience which actually walked through the door was large, lively, diverse and appreciative. Lots of rhythmic clapping at the end. People buzzing with joy to have seen work of this kind in such an unlikely place.

Oddly, the final scene, which was a comic highlight in both London and China, doesn't seem to appeal to the Swedish sense of humour. With only three performances here, it's tricky to re-work it, but I'm fascinated to know why (and so far I have no idea). Other comedy works really well - especially, and not surprisingly, the tri-lingual scene in which Maja and Sammy learn bits of Swedish and Chinese. The Miss Julie bits have a strong resonance too. All part of the fascinating journey of this show between different very specific local responses to global ideas.

I've been reading some of the new Plagrave series of Theatre and... books since I've been here: specifically Ric Knowles on Interculturalism and Dan Rebellato on Globalization. I'm starting to wonder if it's right to define what we are doing as intercultural theatre. In Knowles's terms, this idea seems suspect, smacking of cultural imperialism, unless it's a form of "interculturalism from below", by which he means work initiated by non-white cultures and by-passing white mediation. Which doesn't cover us. A closer approximation is the idea of cosmopolitanism, at least as explained by Rebellato, who puts it forward as a positive response to globalization, which avoids the capitalist imperative of that movement, and the Luddism of localist response. In the end, theses are all just words, but they help to stimulate artistic and political ideas about where we might go next.


Ros Philips said...

Hi Michael
I am delighted to find your blog, I've just been writing one myself for the Citizens Theatre about my time in Japan. I am directing 'Top Girls' for the Tottori foundation as a pro/community production, in Japanese...though I don't speak Japanese.
I have been asking myself similar questions about cultural imperialism. Although I'm at very early stages in the debate. Looking at your research I realise I am very lucky, in a way I am participating in 'interculturalism from below'. The Japanese producers invited me (via the Citz) to work with them. They have an agenda to raise awareness of women's changing role in Japanese society and see Britain and British theatre as pioneering voices for woman's issues...globally. Yes it is imperialism..feminist imperialism and I can't help but be proud of it. My personal political sympathies get the opportunity to be played out in a national debate across the other side of the world. Should I be ashamed? I genuinely don't know.
At another level I am loving how intercultural collaboration teaches me about my practice and process. The mechanics of collaboration are shaping the production in way that would never happen in the UK. For example design meetings are overlooked by local officials, this was intimidating and at first seemed uncreative but now I see it establishes a fluid, transparent communication between the creative team and the money people, so far it has meant all those involved are more 'invested' and I can find valuable contributions from the most unlikely channels.
The production begins in earnest in Jan so now we are prepping via the internet which has other challenges.
I look forward to hearing about your next adventures.

Michael Walling said...

Hi Ros
Very glad you found the blog, and that you've left such interesting comments! I love Top Girls - and I'm trying to imagine how it might resonate in Japan... not a country I've been to. Yet. "Feminist imperialism" sounds a bit of a contradiction in terms - but I know what you mean. It's the problem that you have to decide on certain ideas which you regard as in some way morally absolute or universal - and that cultural relativity cannot be one of them... to assert the equal value of all culture as an absolute is self-contradictory, since many cultures do not hold that value! So we need a process of dialogue which acknowledges difference, but is also open to change. And theatre is a great environment to create such a space.

Let me know if you're back in the UK for 15-16 December. You might be interested in our Practice Exchange on Intercultural work.