Monday, July 18, 2005

China, Iran and supertitles

Friday morning at the Cultural Department of the Chinese Embassy. It's a huge mansion on Hampstead Heath, which Miss Chang (the Assistant and, as far as I can tell, one of only two people who work there) tells me they bought from "an oil magnate". It's curtained and airy on this boiling hot day, and she pours me Chinese tea "to make you cool". I sink into the leather sofa.

The Cultural Counsellor, Mr Ke Yasha, appears: an efficient middle-aged man in a Mandela shirt. They're very helpful and very polite - but I sense all along that the cultural difference here is very real - that there are things in his subtext I'm just not getting. The idea of starting a project without having a script is one he obviously finds tricky to deal with - and he suggests that I don't even try to sell that one to any institutions in China. "Individual artists, yes", he says. "And this will be easier for you. There will be less bureaucracy. And I can smoothe the way." I have a feeling this alone will be worth its weight in gold - so I'm not too bothered when my query about funding is met with polite laughter.

I go to see Amid the Clouds at the Royal Court - it's a company from Iran in a poetic piece about refugees coming from that country to Europe. Great to see work with a real Islamic cultural voice behind it - something there's so little of in the theatre (though we're striving towards something of this with the Nottingham group). The moment when the two characters make a temporary marriage is very beautiful - and only possible within that tradition, which as a result asserts its humanity, even its feminism, in a very surprising way. And I love the blending of really harsh political realities with the mythic - the woman is a modern version of Maryam (Mary), which again is very resonant for Nottingham.

I rarely get annoyed by supertitles in foreign language theatre, but tonight I find them a real hindrance. I think it's because so much of the play is in monologue form, and sometimes the monologues are pre-recorded and whispered in darkness, as if we're inside the protagonist's head. But hearing this in Persian, and reading the title, I don't get that immediate experience which the company clearly want me to have. I'm cut off from the play at precisely the moment I should be drawn in.

This afternoon I was editing the video interview I did with Jatinder Verma for Rose Bruford. At one point he asks: "What is the aesthetic of multiculturalism?" I don't know any more than he does - but it's certainly not the supertitle in a moment of intimacy.

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