Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Accra Day 1

The starry bit of casting "passed": on the grounds of rehearsing in Sidcup. It's a bit of a way out - but I didn't think it was that much of an issue.... I fire off an email to William to line up a few more interviews before I get back.

Here I sit in a sweltering internet cafe in Accra. Got in late last night after a lengthy (but not too expensive) flight via Milan and Lagos. In Lagos we just sat on the plane for 90 minutes. I was reading critical essays about Ama Ata Aidoo. Equipping myself to phone her this morning.

The purpose of this trip is to research the production we're planning for next year - her play The Dilemma of a Ghost. It's fifty years since this country's pioneering independence, and two hundred since the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire - so 2007 is the time to talk about these key issues of slavery, the global economy and the African diaspora, which this play does so brilliantly. As with so many of our projects, this won't work if we just use UK-based performers. We need to find people who are alive in the traditions portrayed, in order to explore how those traditions are interacting with the predominant West. And, of course - these are the people from whom we can learn the most. Like Radhakrishna and Zhang Ruihong.

So this trip is really in search of serendipity. Of course, talking to Ama Ata will be vital and is very exciting (we're having lunch tomorrow), but I'm also keen to see just who may be there in terms of performers, and how performance relates to the cultural traditions she's working with in the play. So much of African life is performative - just walking the streets tells you that: but how is this an expression of the spirit? Is the spirit actually still alive at all? I suspect it is.

Spend the morning at the British Council with Deputy Director Amanda Griffiths. She's very helpful with a list of contact names. I begin the task of phoning round and making dates. This should get easier when Kofi (who minds James Gibbs' house in Madina, which I'm renting) brings me a mobile tonight. He's incredibly shy and incredibly helpful - like many Ghanaians, I think. All the cliches about danger to the white man and being treated like a walking ATM just don't seem to apply here - although the poverty is every bit as visible as in other parts of Africa I've been to. Amanda and I talk about the way in which we should be celebrating the slavery bi-centenary, and we agree that it has to be through work that re-opens the questions. There is more slavery in the world today than there has ever been. Some of it is overt - in northern Ghana, into Burkina Faso and Niger, the trade in humanity, and especially children, is booming. And some of it is covert. Populations live on tiny amounts of money to feed the luxurious lifestyle of the West; a lifestyle which cannot exist without this vast imbalance. This is slavery by another, more insidious name. The market.

If anybody ever reads this blog for travel tips, then here's one. Most banks in Ghana don't cash travellers cheques, unless you show the purchase receipt (which I left at home, as you're supposed to!). The one which eventually worked for me was Barclays Head Office in Bank Square. I walk out with what feels like a sack of swag, but is in fact the Ghanaian equivalent of fifty quid. It will keep me fed, watered and transported for days.

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