Monday, September 26, 2011

Truth and Reconciliation

debbie tucker green's new play at the Royal Court is a brilliant piece of work. I've always liked her writing - stoning mary was another beautiful play - but this time she combines her characteristic poetic language and provocative stance with an amazing manipulation of space which makes the play speak with great immediacy. When you first enter the room, the audience chairs are distributed around the playing area (theatre-in-the-round, basically). You have to choose where to sit with care. A lot of the chairs have reserved notices on them - often saying things like "Victim's Family" or "Witnesses" - which lead you to believe they will be used in the performance, although in fact many are not. Every chair has the name of a victim from a recent conflict carved onto the seat. The chair I sat on had the name and dates of a little girl from Bosnia, killed in her first decade. It was, to say the least, discomforting. On Friday night, there were also surtitles for the hard of hearing, so another factor around justice and its relationship to where you sit came into play.

What was so exciting about all of this was how it blended into the performance itself. The first line referred to the hardness of the chairs for the families coming to a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The mother of a victim felt unable to sit in the room while she waited for the perpetrators. How people sat in relation to one another, how this reflects power structures and power struggles, became integral to the performance. There's been much talk of the theatricality of such events - and now the links were made explicit, implicating us as an audience in the reality of the political and moral crises under exploration.

Only two characters ever got to sit in the centre of the stage - and they were both ghosts. A Rwandan man and the South African child whose mother refused to take a chair. They were evoked to speak to those who had killed them, those whom they haunted, those who knew exactly how they died. But, even at the centre of the stage, they could not speak directly to those they had left behind and who were desperate for knowledge of them.

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