Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Palestinian approaches to plays

When Nobody Returns - Iman Aoun as Penelope
In a talk we did on Saturday, between the two Plays of Love and War, Palestinian writer Ahmed Masoud suggested that Palestinian theatre-makers have a very distinct approach to dramaturgy and playwriting.  The reason there are no famous Palestinian playwrights, he said, was not that there are no good writers, but that they work collaboratively with actors and directors.  Perhaps, we speculated, this has something to do with the huge importance of building community in Palestine.  And perhaps it also relates to the resistance to authority that comes with that community's oppression.

On one level, this collaborative approach to dramaturgy is very close to what we have been evolving at Border Crossings for some time - we balance devised work with authored plays, and we deliberately work with writers like Brian Woolland who have a collaborative approach to authorship and are open to changes, sometimes very radical changes, as a result of the rehearsal process.  Brian has already written about the evolution of the plays on the dedicated blog.

Working on these plays has been even more complex than we're used to rehearsals being - and I found Ahmed's comments very helpful in understanding what we've been engaged with.  For a Palestinian company like Ashtar, there is a huge political meaning in every action that we present on stage.  It is not enough that something is dramatically potent or psychologically truthful - there is always the sense that the audience will read something in relation to their position under occupation and the way they respond to that.  So, when a character emerges from warfare covered in blood, that could be read as suggesting he is a maniac - a smaller amount of blood suggests he is engaged in violence at a level where he can retain some rationality.  It's very complicated and nuanced.

Time and again in rehearsals we have found ourselves asking "What are we actually trying to say?"  In many situations, I would regard the question as invalid - if we could say what we wanted to say, we wouldn't need the play, with its ambiguities and contradictions, through which to say it.  But, in this case, it was very often exactly the right question, because it allowed us to weigh our actions and decisions in relation to the wider political context.  What will the audience - this UK audience in London - feel about the Middle East and our own role there at the end of these performances?

Tomorrow is press night.  After that, we may know the answer.

You can book by clicking here!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Rehearsing Plays of Love and War

This Flesh is Mine - Gerrard McArthur and Iman Aoun
After more than two years, we are back in the extraordinary mythic world of Brian Woolland's Homeric plays.  This Flesh is Mine, which we co-produced with Palestine's ASHTAR Theatre in 2014, was one of the finest pieces we have ever done - acclaimed by the press and by its audiences in both Ramallah and London.  Now we're bringing it back, together with a fantastic new companion piece called When Nobody Returns.   It's an Odyssey to go with the Iliad of This Flesh is Mine.

If anything, the new play is even more complex, unstable, politically engaged and emotionally charged than This Flesh is Mine.  It's benefitted from the company - including Brian - being able to spend time in the West Bank when we rehearsed the first piece there, and from the opportunity to develop the script in dialogue with other theatre-makers from the Middle East, as well as the military families we encountered at Salisbury Playhouse last year.  Brian's written very eloquently about the writing process on the dedicated blog.  

I never used to like The Odyssey.  It seemed to me a fairytale, rather silly after the great themes of The Iliad.  It was nice to be proved wrong.  As Brian worked on the script, it became more and more clear that the famous bits of the epic are actually the bits about spin - stories at one remove from the real story.  At the heart of Homer's poem is a hero's long-delayed return to free a land that is under occupation.  It is this aspect of the Odyssey - so resonant with the Palestinian situation - that has inspired When Nobody Returns.

We've been incredibly lucky to get almost all the original cast back - and they will be performing in both plays, on the same set.  Andrew French, who was so compelling and passionate as Achilles, will also play Odysseus in the new play.  Iman Aoun, the Artistic Director of ASHTAR, returns as Hecuba, and plays Odysseus' wife Penelope - weaving her tapestry as she awaits his return, in what Iman has called an act of cultural resistance.  Gerrard McArthur is Priam and Antinous, the leader of the suitors for Penelope's hand;while David Broughton-Davies plays two brothers - Agamemnon in the first play and Menelaus in the second.  Tariq Jordan, who was so exciting as Hector and Patroclus in This Flesh is Mine, has the key role of Telemakhos - the son of Odysseus and Penelope, who has never known his father, and is now the age Odysseus was when he set sail for Troy.  

The one new cast member is another actress from ASHTAR.  Bayan Shbib has been seen in London before - she played the Queen when ASHTAR brought Richard II  to the Globe to Globe Festival.  She also has an extraordinary personal history: born in Syria, she now lives in Austria, where she has been working in theatre for refugees.  And, of course, this is another theme that resonates powerfully through the new play: after the war, there are displaced people on the seas.  

It's going to be an exciting few weeks.  We open October 21st. And here's a booking link!